Jonathan Edwards with Guy Clark and Keith Sykes
7 p.m. Sunday at Beth Sholom Synagogue, 6675 Humphreys Blvd.
Tickets: $39 and $100, available at www.bsholom.org. For more information, call 901-683-3591.
On last year's My Love Will Keep, his first album of new material in 14 years, folk troubadour Jonathan Edwards tackles a song by a Memphis native son, Jesse Winchester. The song, "Freewheeler," depicts a man whose rootless existence sadly also wrecks the relationships in his life.
"The song does not present a positive image," says Edwards of his decision to record the number, which originally appeared on Winchester's 1999 collection Gentleman of Leisure. "I found if I re-genderfied it and put it in the third person, it pretty closely described someone I used to know."
Though the father of two personally lacks the callous disregard and abhorrence of familial bonds exhibited in the song, there is more than a little of the vagabond in Edwards, who was born in Minnesota, raised in Virginia, and made his name on the Boston folk scene of the late '60s. At various points in his life, he has also called New York City; Austin, Texas; the Caribbean; Nova Scotia; and New England home before settling in Portland, Maine, about three years ago.
"Every time the credit card bills show up, I start getting restless," Edwards jokes. "I'm just trying to keep a fresh outlook on life and the career and family and everything in between. It just dictates that I move around a lot."
Edwards rolls into town Sunday night to perform at Beth Sholom Synagogue with fellow tunesmiths Guy Clark and Keith Sykes. The event, organized by local entertainment attorney and radio deejay Bruce Newman, is a fundraiser for the synagogue. The event teams Sykes and Clark, frequent performing partners in a more country vein, with Edwards, a performer most associated with the Northeast folk scene.
"Jonathan is just a great guy. I see him at Folk Alliance all the time and thought he would be perfect between the other two," Newman says of Edwards, who once wrote a song with Clark, the unrecorded "My Souvenirs." "Jonathan is more like a '70s singer-songwriter. His colleagues are more like Ellis Paul and Henry Gross, all those people who came up having a couple of hits in the '70s. I knew we were on to something when our Congressman Steve Cohen called and said, 'I got to have a ticket.'"
For Newman, Cohen and the rest of their generation, Edwards is best remembered for his 1971 Top 10 hit "Sunshine" off his self-titled debut album. Behind its radiant title and driving rhythms, "Sunshine" is actually a protest song, one of the still often-covered anthems of the era.
As his only big hit, the song has understandably come to dominate Edwards' career, which also includes 10 more studio albums as well as session work for the likes of Emmylou Harris, a stint starring in the traveling version of the Broadway show "Pump Boys and Dinettes," and even his own PBS travel series, "Cruising America's Waterways." But Edwards says he is comfortable with being best known for his first single.
"I still love to play it," says Edwards, who alters the song's arrangement to keep it fresh. "When you only have one major radio hit, you dance with the one that brought you. That song has meant a lot to a lot of people over the decades. I hear about it all the time, even now how much that song meant to a veteran coming back from Vietnam or somebody's challenges at work or school or personal relationships. It has really meant a lot to a lot of people and probably nobody more than me."
Fans interested in sampling the rest of Edwards' oeuvre, however, now have the opportunity with the self-release of Jonathan Edwards' Top 40, his first career retrospective CD, which is available at shows and on his website.