Jonathan Edwards is one of those overlooked singer songwriters from the 1970s that seems to have a small following.
Check out my other comments on him for biographical detail.
This was his first solo album and he had a Top10 hit with the single "Sunshine" (#4) in the US.
It's not easy to (well, not until the digital download era) have a Top 10 single hit in the US. It is very difficult to have a #1. It is near on impossible to do it repeatedly.
The market is so big.
Well, the population is so big
That's a "derrr" statement.
But, accordingly, there are many musics, singers, and record labels trying to get into the Top 40. Getting there indicates your songs' popularity but once there, there is more visibility and your song can progress to the Top 10 or up to #1.
But it's not easy.
If you don't believe me do some googling.
For example, acts that we think have had it all, in terms of singles sales: The Who never had a #1 (they only had one Top 10), Bruce Springsteen has never had a #1, Bowie only had one #1, Oasis had only had one Top 10, Neil Young has had only one Top 10 (though a number one) … you get the idea.
Sure you can say some of these guys are "album artists" but the single is the format that sold the most, and it is the song that people hum, evokes memories and becomes what people talk about in the future.
Yes, I know on this blog I comment on albums only.
So, for Edwards to have a Top 10 is something, and on this, his first album.
But the single is what entranced people.
This album didn't chart.
He followed up this album with others but he fell from view.
But like John Stewart, Steve Young, Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine, Tom Rush and many others he has a devoted, small following.
Perhaps (likely) he is even less known here (Australia) and in the UK because he never had that hit, but that makes me listening to him even more fun for revelations.
Edwards had just split from his psychedelic folk group, "Sugar Creek'" who had released one album on Metromedia records in 1969, " Please Tell A Friend", but he remained friendly with band members Joe Dolce and Malcolm McKinney.
What is interesting about that may be lost on Americans. Dolce moved to Australia in 1978 and wrote and recorded the humorous and slightly cynical song about a fictitious rebellious Italian boy, "Shaddap You Face", which he released under the name Joe Dolce Theatre in 1980. The song was a mammoth hit in Australia – it went to #1 and sold more than 450,000 copies (a lot in Australia). It also went to #1 in the UK, Ireland and another 12 or so countries but in the US it only got to #53. It has sold six million copies worldwide.
Dolce contributes a song (a co-write) to this first album and Edwards would continue to record Dolce material over his other albums. Two songs by Malcolm McKinney appear here and Edwards would, again, record him in the future.
But by 1970 the band Sugar Creek wasn't making any headway, Edwards wanted to go solo, and the dominant music sound was changing.
Singer songwriter sucked in a lot of the old folkies as well as some of the Brill building pop crafts people, country sounds were all about and the psychedelic noise of the 60s was being left behind for something gentler and more earthy. That's not to say that full steam ahead rock 'n' roll was dead but balladry, with country and folk overtones and bouncy earthy songs were popular also.
Despite all the problems of the early 70s in the US like (I repeat myself here from other blog comments), pollution, urban decay, crime , unemployment, civil strife etc there was a back to the earth movement in spirit if not in physicality (though it existed in both) and introspection, observation of others and the world around you was the order of the day.
Edwards was in the right place at the right time.
This album is a direct result of the place and the time.
And Capricorn records was the right place for him sound wise if not major label push wise. Capricorn Records was started in Macon, Georgia by Phil Walden, Alan Walden and Frank Fenter in 1969. The label issued records from The Allman Brothers Band, Jonathan Edwards, Captain Beyond, White Witch, Grinderswitch The Marshall Tucker Band, The Outlaws, The James Montgomery Band, Elvin Bishop, Wet Willie, , Cowboy and many other acts during its ’70s hey day. They went bust in 1979 (though Phil Walden resurrected the label in the early ’90s).
Many singer songwriter country folk albums were released in the 70s but Edwards does have something .
He is clean voiced (much like Jesse Colin Young or John Denver) with some silky-ness to it rather than gravel-ly which throws him into the folkie singer songwriter traditions rather than the country singer songwriter traditions.
There are also orchestrations and interesting chord progressions that further support the folkie traditions.
That's not to say you can't have country success with these sounds just that folk sounds outweigh the country ones but they do co-exist happily … yes, yes, it's a rich tapestry.
Edwards, himself, gravitated more to country as time progressed.
If you know anything from him, it will be "Sunshine" or "Shanty" (see trivia at end) but there is a lot more here.
Now, for a Nick Drake style revival ..though he may be too happy and positive for that and people seem to revere the opposite in music's fringe dwellers.
All songs written by Edwards unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Everybody Knows Her – a great example of folk meets poppy singer songwriter. This is a great tune
- Cold Snow – some good violin
- Athens County – (Edwards, Joe Dolce) – another great tune. Very Chris Hillman in his bluegrass phase.
- Dusty Morning – getting into Shawn Phillips territory here
- Emma – (Edwards, Barbara Ann Brannon) – This could be a John Denver outtake. And there is nothing wrong with that.
- Shanty – a old sounding harmonica white blues.
- Sunshine – gentle and not explicit the message may be missed but there is a defiance of authority here as well as and assertion of personal independence (against the war machine) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunshine_(Jonathan_Edwards_song) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGb3BDMdCCw
- The King – more Shawn Phillips style music though the emphasis on piano rather than guitar. A nice jazzy interlude.
- Don't Cry Blue – (Malcolm McKinney) – a gentle hoot of a song.
- Jesse – John Denver meets Shawn Phillips.
- Sometimes – (Malcolm McKinney) – nice and beautifully sung.
- Train of Glory – a folky harmonica driven song about emancipation that crosses Peter Paul and Mary with Paul Butterfield, and I like it.
More than meets the eye … I'm keeping it.
1971 Sunshine #4 Pop, #7 Adult Contemporary
1972 Train of Glory #101
1972 Everybody Knows Her #101
Train of Glory
- For many, “Sunshine” became a rallying protest cry against war and politics.Edwards reveals in this interview … “It was a combination of factors that went into the inspiration of pulling that one together and started with my dad being an ex FBI agent and me taking over ROTC buildings at the same time he was still an FBI agent. It was the height of the Viet Nam war that was brought to us through ways of lies and submergence, Nixon was president and I had just narrowly survived my pre induction draft board physical and I was very frustrated with our Government and the conduct it was having in our name, so I just sat down with this in Brighton, Massachusetts, wrote the song, and it took off.” http://www.musictriedandtrue.com/single-post/2015/02/12/Jonathan-Edwards-Talks-about-New-CD-with-Darrell-Scott-Vince-Gill-Shawn-Colvin-Jerry-Douglas-and-Alison-Krauss
- "Athens County" was recorded under the title "Sweet Maria (Athens County)" by the Montana bluegrass group Mission Mountain Wood Band in 1977 for their first album, In Without Knocking. The song "Shanty" is used as the "Friday Song" on various "classic rock" FM radio stations; played at various times every Friday, it represents the unofficial start of the weekend. The song "Sunshine" was used in a Jeep commercial, and was also featured on the soundtrack for the film Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Edwards_(album)
- Jonathan Edwards recorded and released a bluegrass version of "Sunshine" (along with an entire album) with the band "The Seldom Scene."[when?] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunshine_(Jonathan_Edwards_song)
- Vocals, Guitar, Harmonica [Harp], Bass – Jonathan Edwards / Bass, Violin – Stuart Schulman / Drums – RIchard Adelman / Engineer – Bob Runstein, Mike Leary / Guitar – Eric Lilljequist / Keyboards – Jef Labes / Pedal Steel Guitar, Banjo – Bill Keith / Producer – Peter Casper
Happy Birthday EP.