Blues 'N Bones
As Archie put it, I play what they call the old Piedmont style, but I call it East Virginia blues cause thats where I learned it. Im entranced by his amiable, sitting-on-the-porch vocals and his relaxed steel and slide guitars. Archies sound is raw blues mixed with country, ragtime and spiritualsall heavily influenced by his teacher, Mississippi John Hurt. Songs like Payday, John Henry and That Wont Do are captivatingly simple and uncluttered. You can hear the incredibly rich detail of Archies finger-pickin and the authentic rapid-fire clack of Mr. Bones rib bone percussion. Mark Wenner, leader of the Nighthawks, sits in on harmonica for a few songs too. (#56952)
Archie Edwards, guitar/ukelele
Mapleshade is a minimalist, ultrapurist blues and jazz label thats been around for years, but has until now only been available through direct sale or from the Musical Heritage Society. Mapleshade is one of the coolest labels Ive ever known - every recording features a sound uniquely suited to the material, yet each sounds perfectly natural and ungimmicked. They should - no mixing boards, filtration, compression, EQ, NR, multitracking, or overdubbing stand between you and the music.
Reissued with new graphics is one of the labels most appealing titles: Archie Edwards Blues 'n Bones. Edwards, as the subtitle has it, is a Master of Piedmont Blues - a country blues style thats gentler and rhythmically more elastic than the more familiar Delta strain. Edwards is a relaxed, amiable performer who brings to mind John Hurt, and the recording is natural and unaffected - an intimate perspective puts you close to Edwards.
With all the emphasis on contemporary electric blues these days, its nice to find an acoustic blues disc thats not some reissue from the pre-World War II era.
Actually, Virginia-based Archie Edwards isnt a pure bluesman. It would be better to call him a songster, one whose repertoire is built on the blues, but also includes ballads, reels, and traditional African-American folk narratives, precisely the mix youll find on Blues 'n Bones.
Backed on some tracks by the Nighthawks harmonica player Mark Wenner and Richard Mr.ÊBones Thomas, who plays, well, bones (bones have been a percussive staple in the African-American music community since the 17th century), Edwards sends forth a rich selection of finger-picked riffs on his guitar that are steeped in the Piedmont guitar tradition. And with a voice that is mature without sounding ancient, 76-year-old Edwards provides a fresh alternative to the more common strains of rocking electric blues.
Edwards opens with John Henry, perhaps the most familiar of all black folk songs, and follows it up with other widely known numbers like Payday and Sitting on Top of the World. But its his originals, namely the ripe instrumental Saturday Night Hop, which provides the best indication of Edwards penchant for the Piedmont picking style, and Baby, Please Gimme A Break, with its rather complex, jazzy chord structure, that score the highest marks.
Edwards isnt an innovator; much of what he plays on guitar has its origins elsewhere, particularly in the performance style of Mississippi John Hurt, his mentor. But acoustic country bluesmen of Edwards ilk arent exactly flooding contemporary blues - which makes this work, his first since the early '80s, such a pleasurable find.
Part of the rich traditional blues community of the nations capital, Archie Edwards is not as known as the other local proponents of the Piedmont blues tradition, either John Jackson, or John Cephas and Phil Wiggins. This Mapleshade album is his second, the first being part of the long out-of-print Living Country Blues U.S.A. series on the German L&R label. Originally issued for mail order sale by the Jazz Heritage Society, it is now being distributed across the country as well.
As discussed in Barry Lee Pearsons annotation, Archie comes from Franklin County, Virginia, and is representative of the Piedmont blues tradition, although an early and late formative influence was Mississippi John Hurt. Other influences include country singers like Jimmie Rodgers and Uncle Dave Macon, and blues performers Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Boy Fuller. A resident of Washington for several decades, Neil Harpes cover captures him relaxing in a chair at his Bunker Hill Road barbershop in Northeast Washington where he not only can be found cutting hair, but also hosting a jam session.
He is joined on most of this recording by Richard Mr. Bones Thomas on the bones, and Mark Wenner (of the blues-rock group The Nighthawks) contributes tasty harmonica accompaniment on several selections. Archie is a most genial performer who works well in a wide range of material which includes his originals I Called My Baby Long Distance and Baby, Please Give Me A Break, standards of the African American tradition such as John Henry, Meet Me in the Bottom, Sitting on Top of the World, and Take Me Back Baby, and Jimmie Rodgers Blue Yodel done here as T For Texas. If not quite as spectacular a guitarist as John Jackson or as compelling a singer as John Cephas, Archie really evokes the genial warmth of his mentor, John Hurt, in his very congenial performances.
The recording evokes a live performance as Archie adds spoken introductions to several songs. The strongest performances are Baby, Please Give Me A Break and Payday, that showcases Archies personal mix of the Piedmont tradition with John Hurt. Richard Thomas bones adds percussive backing to That Wont Do, which echoes Blind Boy Fullers recordings, while Hens Cackle is a feature for the bones and Mark Wenners country blues harp. Archie unfortunately plays the ukelele on T For Texas, and that accentuates the hesitancy of Archies singing, resulting in an unsatisfactory rendition of the song. John Henry and Archies original I Called My Baby Long Distance feature capable slide accompaniments, with the latter tune employing the Dust My Broom riff. While flawed, this album is a very representative recording of Archie Edwards music, and gives a good sense of his live performances, and hopefully will lead to a wider audience.
Sing Out !:
Heavily influenced by both Blind Boy Fuller, Barbecue Bob and his mentor, Mississippi John Hurt, nimble-fingered Piedmont-style guitarist Edwards was 71 years old in 1989 when he recorded these thirteen titles from an extensive repertoire. From originals to covers, Edwards finger-picking propulsively mixes down-home string band, jug and Southeast blues strains together. His original compositions include the anecdotal country blues My Old School Mates, the rocking, circular chord dancing instrumental Saturday Night Hop (that must have been a dance favorite at many a Franklin County, Virginia house party) and the bluesy jazz of Baby, Please Give Me a Break. Theres a vivid cover of the Jimmy Rodgers inspired country classic T for Texas (where Edwards plays baritone ukulele), Hurts Take Me Back Baby and a bluesy John Henry.
It isnt just the song selection that makes this set fantastic. The washboard-sounding bones (central to the minstrel/medicine show tradition) of Richard Mr. Bones Thomas and Slim Harpo-influenced harmonica from veteran Mark Wenner add extra dimension to Edwards casual, ultra syncopated rhythms and drawling, understated vocals. You get the feeling this fellow could play all night and never repeat himself. A master of the Piedmont blues.