One of the last living links to the original Delta blues generation, David "Honeyboy" Edwards has often been overlooked and underappreciated even by hardcore blues fans. Blues roots don't run any deeper than Edwards', though - he can count respected Delta bluesmen like Tommy McClennan and Tommy Johnson as childhood friends, he witnessed the legendary Charley Patton perform in person, and he performed himself alongside the nearly-mythical Robert Johnson. Still, Edwards' status as an elder statesman of the blues has only recently been chiseled into stone.
Since Edwards' 1996 induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, the Delta bluesman has enjoyed a surging wave of popularity. An in-demand crowd-pleaser on the festival circuit, the 90+ year old Edwards still floors audiences with his performances and an ambitious touring schedule that often tops 100 shows a year. Although Edwards hasn't enjoyed the commercial success of many of his peers, he has earned the respect of blues music critics and historians, and has twice been named "Acoustic Blues Artist of the Year" in the Blues Music Awards.
Honeyboy Edwards' Roamin' and Ramblin'
Producer, musician, and Earwig label founder Michael Frank conceived of Edwards' Roamin' and Ramblin' as a duets album, of sorts, Frank working to recreate some of the lively guitar-harmonica collaborations that Edwards was known for during the first few decades of his lengthy career. To this end, Frank recruited some of the best harp players around today, both well-known and lesser so - folks like Billy Branch, Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones, Sugar Blue, and folk-funk bluesman Bobby Rush - to accompany Edwards on eleven new tracks.
To round out the collection and pay proper respect to both Edwards' history, as well as one of the bluesman's old friends, Big Walter Horton, a number of vintage recordings are included, ranging in age from 1942 to as recent as 2004, with a couple of mid-1970s tracks thrown in for good measure.
Roamin' and Ramblin' kicks off with "Apron Strings," a mid-tempo blues tune with livewire guitar, a solid vocal performance by Edwards, and some incendiary harpwork courtesy of Bobby Rush. Edwards' take on the blues classic "Crawling Kingsnake" is downright haunting, the song's swampwater vibe bolstered by Edwards' smoky vocals and voodoo guitar strum, Billy Branch's harmonica blasts punctuating and underlining Edwards' voice. "Trouble Everywhere I Go" is a stripped-down, solo Edwards' track from 1976, a fine performance highlighted by the singer's bluesy vocals and imaginative six-string work.
Dancing the Maxwell Street Shuffle
The ramblin' instrumental "Maxwell Street Shuffle" pays homage to the famous Chicago blues turf, with Branch blowin' the harp, Rick Sherry adding some scrunchy washboard rhythms, and Edwards embroidering his filigree fretwork across the soundtrack. "The Army Blues" is another solo blast, this one from 1942 and originally captured on tape by blues historian Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. Edwards' spry vocals vamp it up alongside his fast-paced picking and powerful harp playing.
The title track is a potent stomp-and-stammer Delta-styled blues with three key ingredients: Edwards' soulful vocals, his ever-changing and poetic guitarplay, and Rush's underlying, unrelenting harpwork. Another Lomax document, "Freight Train Tale," is a lo-fi spoken piece with Edwards talking about his travels by train, the conversation appropriately leading into "Riding The Rails," a rumbling, rocking number with Edwards' firecracker guitar and Billy Branch's explosive harp playing recreating the feeling of a train rolling down the iron tracks.
"Smoky Mountain," a track remembered from 1975, features frequent Edwards partner Big Walter Horton on harp and vocals, punching out a delightful slow-blues tune atop Edwards' shuffling fretwork. Another collaboration between the two blues greats - the lively instrumental "Jump Out" - also dates to '75, Big Walter's harp ricocheting off Edwards strutting guitar chords like a bullet off concrete.
Talking About Little Walter & Other Tales...
The raucous "Low Down Dog," from 1976, features Michael Frank on harmonica, painting subtle textures behind the broad brushstrokes of Edwards' rockin' guitarwork and the buckets of color provided by his earthy vocals. "Little Boy Blue," a 2004 performance by the duo of Edwards and Frank, is a longer, slower, saltier blues dirge with Edwards' emotional vocals and Frank's tasty, mournful harp.
Roamin' and Ramblin' also includes a pair of entertaining conversations between Honeyboy and Bobby Rush where the elder statesman of the blues remembers old friends. "Talking About Little Walter" talks about the Chicago blues giant while "Shufflin' The Blues Conversation" speaks to the meaning of the blues and provides insightful commentary on the future of the music.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Honeyboy Edwards' is a true lifer, a charismatic performer and talented blues musician whose amazing career has spanned across eight decades. Even at the age of 92, Edwards manages to deliver some strong vocal performances and inspired guitar playing across Roamin' and Ramblin'.
Bolstered by top-notch musicians like Branch and Rush, and backed by Chicago blues veterans like guitarist Paul Kaye and drummer Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, the new tracks on Roamin' and Ramblin' showcase an artist that, while he may have lost a step or two through the years, has lost nothing of his fire for the blues. Throw in the vintage tracks with Big Walter and Michael Frank, as well as the Lomax-produced solo performances, and you have an impressive career-spanning document that highlights Edwards' hall of fame credentials. (Earwig Music)