Just when you thought that maybe every 'lost' genius of the blues had in fact been discovered and granted their moment in the spotlight, along comes NorthernBlues with another. But whereas some smack of plunder, "The Toronto Sessions" stand as an exemplary project in every way.
Despite a lifetime's worth of performing, Archie Edwards was sadly underecorded. A contemporary of the better-known Mississippi John Hurt - the two often performed together - he was largely unknown outside his home in Washington, D.C., where his barbershop, long a local legend for its Sunday jams, is now a shrine to his musical legacy.
"The Toronto Sessions" were recorded by promoter Serge Sloimovits, who'd brought Archie to town for a series of shows in 1986. (Want history? Rockers U2 attended Archie's show at the Rivoli, a tiny club in Toronto's trendy Queen West district!).
Archie was in his prime, and the pristine sound of these recordings capture him in glorious intimacy.
By all accounts a humble and down-to-earth soul, Archie was a master of the Piedmont style, characterised by fleet finger-picking, in his case on an antique steel-pan Gretsch. The simplicity of one man, one guitar is ideally suited to his tales of life and love, sorrow and joy. Roughly half are original compositions, but as befits the tradition Archie takes liberties with many an old tune, rearranging and reinventing as required to examine his own experience. The result is just what the blues is supposed to be; deeply personal yet universal, a mirror held to one man's life that reflects equally on the human condition. Rough-hewn and ragged it may be, but there's truth and honesty here in spades; Utterly devoid of artifice or attitude, Archie's music is nothing less than a direct and straighforward look into the soul of a good man.
Recognizing the historical importance of these recordings, NorthernBlues president Fred Litwin has spared no expense, and the result is an extraordinary package. Liner notes run well over twenty pages, and include rare photographs, a fine essay by Barry Lee Pearson that puts Archie firmly in his historical place, and both lyrics and commentary on each and every song by Archie himself.
Archie apparently recorded enough material for two discs, and Mr. Litwin hints at a "Volume Two" to come. Let's hope it happens soon . . . in a world crowded with manufactured and disposable pop, the straighforward simplicity and unflinching honesty of a man like Archie Edwards is a precious commodity indeed!
NorthernBlues Music, Inc.
225 Sterling Road, Unit 19
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Web : www.northernblues.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.