My introduction to Jonathan Edwards came courtesy of Paul Westerberg thanks to a cover of the former’s classic, “Sunshine,” on the soundtrack to the hit television series, Friends. Like most 10-year-olds hanging out in northern Maine, I was listening to the cassettes that I had in my possession from front to back, seeking out the hidden gems buried within that were unlikely to make it to radio. Westerberg’s version of “Sunshine” sounded familiar (likely due to it being a cover of a song I had unknowingly heard before) as well as having an undeniable melodic hook and tuneful appeal within its rocking arrangement. The writing, and energy apparent, made this song successful regardless of who was performing it.
Edwards’ latest record, Tomorrow’s Child, is a much more chilled out affair in all respects but the high quality of songwriting is still certainly on display. Produced by songwriter/multi-
The record opens with a version of Malcolm Holcombe’s “Down in the Woods” and features a clean arrangement filled with solid players and a group of background singers that help establish an inclusive vibe. It reminds me of Warren Zevon’s The Wind without the overwhelming attention to the subject of mortality. Edwards voice, slightly aged but still full of passion, is smooth and easy to listen to, placed firmly in the front and center of each mix.
With the selection of covers, as with previous albums, Edwards continues to show a knack for picking the right songs: tracks that he can comfortably make sound like they were meant for him to sing all along. The rendition of the title track, originally by Marcus Hummon, lifts the song to its full potential, thanks in no small part to the harmonies provided by Alison Krauss. Edwards' voice already carries the song, offering emotionally apt delivery of the lyrics as the accompaniment drops slightly in the prechoruses, but when Krauss enters it’s obvious why she was called upon. The two voices blend marvelously and provide one of the biggest highlights of the album.
“Girl from The Canyon” originally appeared on Edwards’ 1977 album Sailboat but the version here slows the tempo down, keeps instrumentation sparse and adds Vince Gill on harmonies for good measure. Gill also shows up on “Sandy Girl,” one of the album’s more upbeat and carefree numbers. Along with he and Krauss, Edwards is joined at various points on Tomorrow’s Child by Jerry Douglas, Shawn Colvin, his own daughter Grace Young and Portland’s own Joe Walsh, but never does it feel like the guest spots outshine the material. These are top-notch players and singers who were called upon for their skills, not their names.
The record closes with “Jonny’s Come Home,” a song dealing with the heavy subject of Edwards’ own adoption. It also details how he similarly had to give up his own daughter. I always dread songs with serious messages/dealing with personal subjects as they usually come across as hokey or heavy-handed but this track does a good job at telling its story while also providing an interesting composition. The words are extremely straightforward – “I never knew just who I was much less where I came from / I guess that’s just the way it is when you’re adopted young” are the opening lines – but there’s an unconventional strum build-up of a less-than-obvious chord during the choruses that adds an unsettling feeling to a song that otherwise faces its issues head-on in a hopeful manner. It’s a unique choice but also makes the song stand out that much more.
While there are jumps in mood between tracks throughout the album, this is a folk record and the proceedings are fairly low-key. There’s no wild energy on display or crazy left turns in style that will surprise listeners. These are skilled players putting satisfactory performances onto well-written songs. There is also an understanding of sequencing that helps keep a general level of interest up – “Mole in The Ground” is familiar and fun to sing-along to, “This Old Guitar” is custom built for toe-tapping, the mostly acapella “Hard Times” shifts gears, “Ain’t Got Time” offers an upbeat groove and cheerful chorus in the album’s final stretch.
Edwards and company have put together an impressive album featuring a team of stellar singers and players that will satisfy fans of the artist, fans of country/folk, and should appeal to a number of open-minded music fans in general. Tomorrow’s Child is the work of a singer/songwriter who knows exactly what he’s doing and has been around long enough to know how to get that across.
Jonathan Edwards plays the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield on Friday, May 27 at 8:00pm.
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