Jonathan Edwards,
My Love Will Keep
(Appleseed, 2011)

Jonathan Edwards will be forever associated with the gargantuan 1971 hit "Sunshine, Sunshine," which helped usher in an era of singer-songwriters spawned by the nearly comatose folk revival of the previous decade. The song's upbeat melody clipped along in notable contrast to its solemn message that evoked, albeit light-handedly, the miseries and uncertainties of young men waiting to be drafted into a detested war. Since then, Edwards has maintained a career at lower visibility. The last I heard a recording of his was in 1983, when he released an agreeable album with the Washington, D.C.-based bluegrass band Seldom Scene.

My tastes being what they are -- for one, not usually oriented toward folk-pop sounds -- I put My Love Will Keep on the player with uninflated expectation. Even the title strikes me as suspiciously sentimental; positive love is good in life, not so much in song. What I hear is a kind of amalgam of John Denver, James Taylor and Jesse Winchester (Edwards even covers Winchester's "Freewheeler"). Now, I respect Taylor, if not enough to listen to him much. I have been in the Winchester camp since that first album in 1970. (I reviewed his most recent release, Love Filling Station, also on Appleseed, in this space on 30 May 2009.) On the other hand, I loathed everything about Denver, whose once-mass appeal never ceased to confound me. I still don't get it. Edwards's original "Johnny Blue Horizon" celebrates Denver.

Which is not to say I dislike this album. Seasoned pro that he is, Edwards is sure-footed at what he does. What he does is compose his own and interpret others' melody-rich folk-flavored pop songs and pop-flavored folk songs. (Actually, his "Lightkeeper" could almost pass for traditional.) It's not quite accurate, I might point out, to typecast Edwards as a singer-songwriter; fewer than half of the 12 cuts here are Edwards originals. The most astounding choice is the Beatles' "She Loves You," which he slows down and transforms what had been sheer bubblegum into a somber meditation on how one receives offered love after the many disappointments of a long life. How that idea came to Edwards I have no idea; that he managed to pull it off seems little shy of miraculous.

The album's songs cover a range of themes, with environmental concerns linking many, along with time's passing and the comforts of music. The effect could be ickily sentimental, but it isn't. Rather, much of it is moving, and all of it makes for rewarding listening. It ends on a high note with Rod MacDonald's rousing "Sailor's Prayer." The production is unfailingly pitch-perfect. Maybe Jonathan Edwards is who John Denver should have been.

music review by
Jerome Clark

20 August 2011

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