Jonathan Edwards is one of those folky singer-songwriters who has slipped through the music popularity cracks.
At least over here in Australia.
In the States he has a career, plays, has a fan base, and even had a hit ("Sunshine", #4, 1972). His fan base may be small, but they are loyal and like a lot of others of his generation of singer-songwriters, who only need their songs and their guitars, he has found he can have a presence on in the internet age because people can find him, and, then, can go and see him play live. This is enough to sustain a career and to allow an artist to keep recording music.
He has absolutely no profile over herein Australia. You rarely see Australian pressings of his albums. Any indication of admiration you display for him or his music will be met with a scratch of the head.
I have a few Edwards albums (mainly acquired in the last five years or so … some of the local record stores have been shipping in old US vinyl and then reducing what doesn't sell) and have spun him in the past and have been impressed enough to keep buying him when he crops up.
Biography by Allmusic, "Best remembered for his crossover hit "Sunshine," country and folk singer/songwriter Jonathan Edwards was born July 28, 1946, in Aitkin, Minnesota, and grew up in Virginia. While attending military school, he began playing guitar and composing his own songs. After moving to Ohio to study art, he became a fixture on local club stages, playing with a variety of rock, folk, and blues outfits, often in tandem with fellow students Malcolm McKinney and Joe Dolce … In 1967, Edwards and his bandmates relocated to Boston, where they permanently changed their name to Sugar Creek and became a full-time blues act, issuing the 1969 LP Please Tell a Friend. Wanting to return to acoustic performing, he left the group to record a solo album. Near the end of the 1970 sessions, one of the finished tracks, "Please Find Me," was accidentally erased, forcing Edwards to instead record a brand-new composition. The song was "Sunshine," and when it was released as a single the following year, it quickly became a Top Five pop hit … With the release of 1972's Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy, Edwards' music began gravitating toward straight-ahead country; his label was at a loss as to how to market the record, however, and over the course of two more albums, 1973's Have a Good Time for Me and the following year's live Lucky Day, his sales sharply declined. Soon, Edwards dropped out of music, buying a farm in Nova Scotia … In 1976, Edwards' friend Emmylou Harris enlisted him to sing backup on her sophomore record, Elite Hotel; the cameo resulted in a new record deal and the LP Rockin' Chair, recorded with Harris' Hot Band. Sail Boat, cut with most of the same personnel, appeared a year later".
This album is part of a (poor returns) deal Edwards did with Warners (he didn't record again in the studio till 1985) and as indicated above the backing band are mainly comprised of Emmylou Harris' Hot Band as well as Emmylou herself, Herb Pedersen and others. The album never sounds anything less than tight and rootsy. These guys can play.
As was the sound popular at the time there is a Eagles, Poco, Doobie Brothers vibe going on though without the vocal harmonies.
The problem is that, that sound dates. Especially now when country roots sounds, even when merged with pop, are expected to be a little more authentic and, errr, rootsy.
Edwards being a soloist is perhaps a strength. The old folky singer-songwriter with harmonica can still be heard and helps keep the album (more) rootsy and away from Eagles faux pop pap. Though, this probably hurt its sell-ability.
Regardless, the album is just a little too quiet for 1977, even on its up-tempo tunes. Everything was either loud (rock), slick (disco) or big production (Eagles etc) and this is none of those.
It is quite country rock though.
I know Edwards had always dabbled with country music but this album is certainly more (straight) country rock than the other music of his I have heard. I will have to listen to the rest to see how it all fits in together, but, I just make the observation.
Edwards only has three originals on the album. He wrote most of the previous years "Rockin' Chair" album so I assume he was short on songs. Hey, it happens to everyone (even Dylan goes through long patches where he is short on original material). Edwards fills the album with an old (sounding) patriotic country song, a soul song and then four songs released the previous year (three from fellow American ex-pat to Canada Jesse Winchester, from his "Let the Rough Side Drag" album, and one from Hoyt Axton's "Fearless" album).
Edwards recent covers aren't as good as the originals and they sound a little like filler. The older covers from his musical memory sound much better and his originals hit the mark. Perhaps he should have waited another year to record … but then who knows what his contract said.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Blow on Chilly Wind – (Jesse Winchester) – from Winchester's "Let the Rough Side Drag" (1976) album. A great song though Edwards version isnt as good as Winchester's
- Evangelina – (Hoyt Axton, Kenneth Higginbotham) – from Axton's "Fearless" (1976) album. A beautiful song by Axton.
- Sailboat – (Jonathan Edwards) – catchy and obviously tapping into the Jimmy Buffet sound with a Caribbean feel … quite dreamy in its own way.
- People Get Ready – (Curtis Mayfield) – People Get Ready" is a 1965 single by the Impressions. Not as good as the original but a good version. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/People_Get_Ready
- How About You – (Jesse Winchester) – from Winchester's "Let the Rough Side Drag" album. Some nice country sounds here with pedal steel and gentle guitar picking making it a winner.
- Girl from the Canyon – (Jonathan Edwards) – Excellent and done with a nod to later Byrds.
- Weapon of Prayer – (Ira Louvin, Charlie Louvin) – by The Louvin Brothers from their "Weapon Of Prayer (1962) album. Wonderful. If you know "The Christian Life" by the Louvin Brothers (or as done by Gram Parsons in The Byrds) and which Edwards had done on his "Rockin' Chair" album then you know what to expect here.
- Never Together (But Close Sometimes) – (Rodney Crowell) – This, I think, is the first version of this song. Crowell was in Emmylou's band and played session on this album so probably plugged the song to Edwards. It's a good one though it's given a slight Caribbean feel here whereas the later Carlene Carter (1978) version is done straight and is, perhaps, better. The song has also been done by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (1982) and The Oak Ridge Boys (1988).
- Carolina Caroline – (Jonathan Edwards) – another good original.
- Let the Rough Side Drag – (Jesse Winchester) – from Winchester's "Let the Rough Side Drag" album. A country rock song that is meant to be a bit of a stomper. It's good but a little subdued.
Subdued but not without it's joys and virtues … I'm keeping it.
Blow on Chilly Wind
People Get Ready
Girl from the Canyon
Carolina Caroline –
Let the Rough Side Drag
- Canadian-born American folk reggae blues soul singer Grace Young, or more commonly known as Grace, is Edwards' daughter. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_(Canadian_singer)