Honeyboy Edwards: Roamin' and Ramblin'

Chris Gaerig

Legendary Delta bluesman returns with a collection of 2007 recordings and older unreleased tunes.

Honeyboy Edwards

Roamin’ and Ramblin’

Label: Earwig
US Release Date: 2008-02-19
UK Release Date: Available as import

Honeyboy Edwards is a hopeful musician: Not in the sense that he adheres to a particularly optimistic mantra, but in so far as he inspires hope in traditionalists and die-hard blues fans. As one of the last living people to know the prolific Robert Johnson, Edwards is about as real as they come. His tightly grizzled croon is the same now as it was in his beleaguered youth and his Delta picking is sharp and clear, cutting through his recordings as it would have the smoky jukes of Mississippi. His latest release, Roamin' and Ramblin' is a testament to this legacy.

The majority of Roamin' and Ramblin' is comprised of his recent 2007 sessions. Employing the help of blues harpists Billy Branch, Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones, and most famously Bobby Rush, much of the disc centers on the tension created between intermittent harmonica blasts and Edwards' yelping cries and smooth guitar. The washboard driven "Maxwell Street Shuffle" fights this tension through its entirety. As Edwards treads along a 12-bar blues shuffle, Branch attacks the track with his boisterous harp play. You can hear the guitar and harmonica battling back and forth in search of the perfect groove while the washboard stands as the mediator and grounding force. Similarly, "Riding the Rails", featuring the same supporting cast as "Maxwell Street Shuffle ", forefronts the harp in exchange for interspersed guitar licks.

We’re also given a mass of tracks blending the acoustic, Delta sound of Edwards' past and the electric sound he later used. "How Long" is a subtle jam that comfortably hovers over a brushed ride and Bobby Rush's understated electric musings. However, it's this track that proves Edwards has still got some bite. He often explodes with twanging fills, briefly taking the spotlight before settling back into the groove.

But while the new recordings are undeniably cut of the Honeyboy cloth, they seem to lack something in comparison to the truly affecting early recordings Roamin' and Ramblin' also presents. Taking center stage is the 1942 Alan Lomax clip "The Army Blues." Recorded during Lomax's legendary trip through the Delta, recording bluesmen for the Library of Congress — a venture that also documented such artists as Leadbelly, Son House, and Willie Brown — the track has the grainy quality and muddied production of early recordings, giving it a (even if only perceived) authentic quality that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Likewise, his voice is fuller and dripping with the soul that so accented his early career.

Even the previously unreleased tracks from the ’70s have an intangible quality about them that has been lost in the more recent recordings. The trotting guitar and muffled vocal accompaniment of "Low Down Dog" gives the otherwise hollow track an air of raucousness. Meanwhile, "Trouble Everywhere I Go" and "I Was In New Orleans Last Night" hark back to the hopelessness of the Delta blues and carry a sullen, downtrodden sentiment that seems nearly impossibly to recreate in contemporary times.

In a sense, Roamin' and Ramblin' is as close as anyone will come to replicating the Delta blues of the early 1900s. Though this is to be expected from someone like Honeyboy Edwards, it's still an incredible feat; the occasional trouble he had finding the sound on the record shows how impressive Roamin' and Ramblin' truly is. In the end, though, we can only hope that Edwards produces more material in the coming years because, unfortunate as it is, he may not be making music for much longer. And with the eventual loss of Honeyboy Edwards, so too will come the loss of America’s last true bluesman.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.