Don Edwards,
Moonlight & Skies
(Western Jubilee/Dualtone, 2006)

I despise "My Blue Heaven" even more than I detest "Danny Boy," so we are talking about -- let us be clear -- advanced distaste. At the same time I like Don Edwards a lot, and I like this CD, just as I look with favor upon all of Edwards's recordings. Still....

"Heaven" opens Moonlight & Skies, announced before the singing starts by Glen Rothstein's chipper clarinet effusions, and then Edwards's endearingly craggy baritone wends its way around ghastly saccharine lyrics, in which cozy 1920s-era suburban domesticity is reveled. One could hardly conceive of a less likely choice from a man whose usual repertoire of Western songs gives voice to precisely contrary sentiments. At least it closes on a high note with some tasty, if all too brief, yodeling. (There's plenty more of that on cut five, "That's How the Yodel Was Born," where Edwards demonstrates his proficiency in both blue [hillbilly] and Swiss styles.)

In fact, the farther you get into the CD, the better it gets. Perhaps that is because as one song follows another, Edwards goes deeper into the cowboy-themed songs for which he is best known. In the liner notes, however, he tells us that this album sort of just happened, that it is not intended to prove anything; it's just that these are songs he is fond of, not all of them Western in orientation, for one reason or another. There's an agreeable albeit hardly essential reading of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" on cut two, and a couple of very nicely performed Jimmie Rodgers tunes (the prisoner's-lament title song, the rarely covered "Land of My Boyhood Dreams"). The afore-mentioned "Heaven" and "Boots & Saddle" derive their inspiration from recordings by Rodgers contemporary and early country-guitar marvel Riley Puckett.

The late Cindy Walker's beloved "Dusty Skies" -- a Dust Bowl ballad that Woody Guthrie didn't write -- gets a languid, melancholy reading, thanks to Edwards's effective low-key vocal and some gorgeous dobro sounds from Cindy Cashdollar, not to mention Mark Abbott's fiddle and Rich O'Brien's mandolin. The result is more like an authentic cowboy ballad than the Western-pop-harmony exercise that Walker surely had in mind when she wrote it decades ago.

"The Dying Cowboy of Rimrock Ranch," which is an authentic cowboy ballad, ends the album in sheer, sad, end-of-the-trail glory: "I am riding away on my brown girl/To the round-up where we all must go." As he was put on Earth to do, Don Edwards leads us to the true blue heaven, where there's 50 miles of elbow room and not a little nest that nestles where the roses bloom to be found.

by Jerome Clark
12 August 2006

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