[3 June 2012]
Perhaps most famous for the 1972 protest track “Sunshine”, Jonathan Edwards returns with his first album in a decade. “Sunshine” could not have come at better time in pop music––emerging in the darkest hours of the Nixon administration, it became a Top 10 track in the United States. Not bad for a tune that, the timeworn story goes, wasn’t even supposed to be released––it only made the cut when an engineer recorded a track that was supposed to be released.
A few years later Edwards teamed up with his old pal Emmylou Harris, adding backing vocals to her Elite Hotel album and scoring his own deal with Warner Bros. He released a quick succession of albums in the 1970s and in the late ‘80s went full-on country with the album The Natural Thing. His releases slowed to a trickle after that but he remained active with session work as well as contributions to television and film.
Doubtless there are some who wish that Edwards would have been more prolific in the last few decades but the truth is that we’ve not been subjected to a series of sub par albums, half-baked collaborations or re-make albums that have only diminished the reputation and memories of a quality batch of songs. Instead, we have a release that’s true to the artist’s initial and enduring spirit and all the better for it.
My Love Will Keep finds him straddling the line he’s always straddled––between country and folk, between the hip and the square. Vince Gill sings Edwards’ praises in the liner notes and Edward picks his way through a dose of originals and a healthy helping of covers. “Johnny Blue Horizon” (a salute to John Denver), “How Long” (an older tune that’s been re-worked for the album), and “Lightkeeper” are the best of those penned by his own hand––as is opener “Surrounded”.
His impeccable choice of material is demonstrated through his cover of “She Loves You” with an arrangement by Eric Lilljequist, his take on the Henry Gross piece “Everybody Works In China” (which he admits is probably more relevant today than he’d like), and Paul Cooper’s “This Island Earth” (which Edwards says he first heard via The Nylons). Jesse Winchester’s “Freewheeler” and Rod McDonald’s “Sailor’s Prayer” also get the Edwards treatment and are––arguably––better for it.
It’s fitting that the Appleseed label––home to Edwards’ peers such as Tom Rush, Roger McGuinn, Donovan, and Tom Paxton––oversaw this release as it’s almost complete assurance that it’s in the right hands.
Edwards is an artist who absolutely understands his audience and those who have embraced his past work won’t be disappointed by this outing. Those unfamiliar can rest assured that this is probably as good a point of entry as any. It’s hard to find much negative to say about this record and although it’s hardly life changing it certainly is a welcome return from a man we’ve been missing for a while. A good primer of an artist who’s never had to make a comeback because he’s never really gone away or fallen from heights of success unfathomable to most.