For some artists, the challenge of building a career on a single hit song would prove too daunting a challenge. And indeed, if you were to ask most people to pinpoint Jonathan Edwards’ claim to fame, the list of accomplishments would likely start and end with the song “Sunshine”. While it provided Edwards with a point of reference that still resonates some forty years on, it’s also cause to relegate him to that most dreaded stature, that of the one hit wonder. Nevertheless, even limited recognition can be fortuitous of course, but one can only imagine how difficult it might be to perform for diehard devotees even as the audience awaits with the proverbial baited breath his recital of that single song. It could conceivably overshadow every other song in the set and perhaps even make every entry leading up to it seem like little more than a warm-up.
If Jonathan Edwards considers it an albatross, then he clearly hides his burden well. Earlier this century he even celebrated the song’s anniversary with an event he tellingly titled his “First Annual Farewell Tour”. The intention was, of course, to place tongue firmly in cheek, but it also indicated a certain perseverance when it came to convincing the masses that there was more to his resume than a single ascent to the top of the charts. In truth, Edwards has added a number of excellent albums to his catalogue over the past four decades, beginning with his earliest entries Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy and Have a Good Time for Me in the early ‘70s, through his successive efforts on Capricorn, Warner Bros., and his own independent label Rising Records. In addition, he’s guested on records by Emmylou Harris, The Seldom Scene and Cheryl Wheeler and even occasionally immersed himself in theater and on film.
This is all to say that Edwards has fashioned a productive and industrious trajectory for himself, making his latest album Tomorrow’s Child all the more illuminating. Employing an all-star cast for assistance — producer and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, drummer Kenny Malone, dobro player Jerry Douglas, banjo and fiddle player Dirk Powell and backing vocalists John Cowan, Shawn Colvin, Vince Gill, and Alison Krauss, among them — Edwards shows his pulling power. Yet even despite this cast of thousands, there’s no doubt that this is Edwards’ achievement alone. While most of the songs are credited solely to Edwards (in addition to occasional covers — Malcolm Holcombe’s “Down in the Woods” and Marcus Hummon’s “Tomorrow’s Child” specifically), the music takes on an air of rugged, rustic folk musings, fully affirmed by an aching acapella take on the Stephen Foster standard “Hard Times”, the lovely, fully embraceable ballads “The Girl From the Canyon” and “Mamaw” and, of course, Edwards’ genial approach in general. Banjo, fiddle and the sway of acoustic guitars enhance that sepia-tinted appeal, establishing Tomorrow’s Child as a beacon of seemingly timeless appeal.
How fortunate then that while Edwards needn’t rely on the past,he still finds meaning in offering homage to it nonetheless.