The Gorgeous Ladies of Alt-Folk Wrestling

Triple-A sirens contemplate blood, oil, and coffee with varying degrees of enthusiasm

Sheryl Crow's thinking about the war, too. Maybe too much. Her muddled protests on the wordy and unwieldy Detours (A&M) map out some absurd amalgamation of Prince, Dylan, Marley, and Madonna (the falafel-joint world-beat mantra "Peace Be Upon Us" is straight Ray of Light.) She means well, though: Even "God Bless This Mess" makes for a bearable refrigerator magnet until the towers come down. She also sounds reasonably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed through most of it—cod-reggae fixation or no, Bill Bottrell, who produced Crow's blockbuster Tuesday Night Music Club debut 15 years ago, gives her a decent bubblegummy bounce to chew on. But her most coherent politics show up in the breakup songs. And, sorry: If you're concerned about petroleum consumption, you might think twice before writing an Armageddon fantasy about how, after the riots of 2017, "gasoline will be free, yeah yeah yeah." (Also inadvisable: hiring jam-folk bore Ben Harper to stodge up the ending.)

Ottawa-born Kathleen Edwards's "Oil Man's War," off her proudly Canada-centric Asking for Flowers (Zoe/Rounder), is more down-to-earth: Basically, to dodge the draft, a horny boy and girl escape to the Great White North, where they'll have a baby and open a store downstairs. Edwards isn't averse to creative-writing notebook sing-song; there's something affected about the way she's always stretching out vowels. But studio aces—notably keyboard Heartbreaker and former Carlene Carter collaborator Benmont Tench—help a lot. And more than all these other sob sisters, Edwards just might convince you she's living in the material world. Three of her set's better songs talk about performing onstage, and the metaphor-packed "I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory"—which seems to concern a sisterly crush on a bandmate—is a Canuck tour de force, from its Gretzky-and-McSorley hockey references to its hopes for "heavy rotation on the CBC."

Shelby Lynne's got a light, albeit slightly ridiculous, touch.
Randee St. Nicholas
Shelby Lynne's got a light, albeit slightly ridiculous, touch.

Details

Tift Merritt plays Mercury Lounge March 19 (mercuryloungenyc.com); Kathleen Edwards plays the Fillmore at Irving Plaza April 10 (irvingplaza.com).

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But the real State of the Provinces address is the one that takes its name from the national anthem: "Oh Canada," which pushes its Crazy Horse buildup skyward as it tackles a country's see-no-evil denial of racism and violence. By album's end, Edwards earns the six-minute smooth-jazz string-and-sax stretch-out "Goodnight, California"; you get the idea that she deserves the rest. And also that, like Joni, she might still have a little money riding on the Maple Leafs.

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