All across the cultural map, women are kicking men's butts. On Saturday Night Live, the assertive, acerbic voices of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler put to shame their male counterparts, who mostly stand around timidly. (The same holds true for the Democrats; the outspoken Barbara Boxer is their Fey.) The balance has also shifted in the land of singer-songwriters, judging by the latest from Canada's answer to Lucinda Williams.
Kathleen Edwards deals with a similar topic on Back to Me, her follow-up to 2003's Failer: ''Copied Keys'' also addresses the ways one person's life subsumes another's. She yearns to be the center of his universe, but there's dignity and strength in her stoic voice and the song's country-folk churn. Nobody's pushover, Edwards snaps, ''You say you like me in your memory/You've got to be f---ing kidding me,'' in ''What Are You Waiting For?'' one of several songs in which love is a bloody battlefield. In the sly title track, she decides to exact revenge on her ex by, among other things, drugging him and hauling him back to her place.
The album offers up the same taut honky-tonk, high-lonesome balladry and electric-rock snarls as Failer. But the production is more direct, and her songs are more rueful. Edwards is clearly drawn to shady men who leave her with bittersweet memories; yet, in the last song, she finally consoles herself with ''Good things come when you stop looking.'' No doubt she'll keep looking anyway and write a resonant song about the experience. This tough alt-country cookie deserves a booking on SNL.