Pros: Twelve tunes to give you happy feet
Cons: Never achieved the popularity he deserved
Jonathan Edwards was semi-popular in the 70's, when many folk troubadours roamed the earth. Only a handful survive. But this is a music review, not a paleontology treatise. Edwards is still recording sporadically, and playing gigs at smallish venues, but he's definitely under the radar screen.
Why do we still listen to, say, James Taylor, but not Jonathan Edwards? In the 70's Edwards' catchier melodies made me think he had a brighter future than Taylor. Obviously I was wrong(not the first time-I never thought the American people would elect Nixon!). It could be that better marketing made the difference. Or maybe Edwards lost interest in pursuing a big time music career and moved in a different direction. I confess I have no idea. But back in the day, Jonathan Edwards made me happy, and he touched my heart. The combination of sensitive lyrics and harmonica-laden instrumentation caused the toes tap and the adrenalin to flow. Edwards is worth listening to still, though comparatively few do. Give him a try when you can use a smile, or some tranquility in an otherwise beastly, busy day.
This eponymous (I always see that pretentious word in the fancy music reviews) album dates from 1971, and it is Edwards' best. The tracks are:
Everybody Knows Her
Don't Cry Blue
Train Of Glory
I like the entire album, but the highlights for me are: Everybody Knows Her, Athens County, Emma, Sunshine and Shanty. Why, you ask? Here's why.
Everybody Knows Her opens the album in a strongly positive manner, much like a keynote speech. It's an uptempo love song that sets an infectiously happy tone right away.
Athens County is an ode to that place where, in your misspent youth, the lure of wine, song and sex was inescapable. When Edwards croons to his "sweet Maria, never long gone", you'll surely recall how you felt about the one you loved when you were in your own personal Athens County. "Athens County, we'll stop and have some wine. Athens County, Maria and me...we're doing fine." Jonathan Edwards' voice is a perfect match for his excellent guitar playing on this number. It's sweet, pure, and full of the excitement of youthful adventure.
Emma slows down the pace while maintaining the same sweetness and purity. It's a love song, of course, about "the last time I saw Emma." Surprisingly, even though the song is a remembrance of lost love, it still manages to leave the listener with a residue of optimism. Edwards recalls how Emma "throws her arms around me...and off we go in flight." A great image.
Sunshine is a bouncy tune that makes you want to dance, at least if you're not paying attention to the lyrics. Strangely, the melody is uptempo even though the words are something of a downer. The message is a protest against leadership (remember who our President was at the time). "You can't even run your own life. I'll be damned if you'll run mine." The juxtaposition of a catchy tune and negative lyrics is a curious but effective anomaly here.
Shanty is the creme-de-la-creme of this album. I say that absolutely without fear of contradiction (although that statement itself may cause some contrarian to begin tapping his keyboard). As soon as Edwards wails into the opening harmonica solo, my ears start to perk up in anticipation of the pure pleasure to come. No serious messages in this tune. Just fun.
We're gonna sit down in the kitchen
Fix us something good to eat
Make our heads a little high
Make the whole day complete
We're gonna lay around the shanty, Mama
And put a good buzz on.
Sounds good to me, even in 2002.