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Music Review: The Toronto Sessions – Archie Edwards

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While it can't be denied the late Archie Edwards (September 4, 1918 – June 18, 1998) was an accomplished guitarist and singer of The Blues, this wasn't his greatest contribution to this traditional American music. He only released a few recordings and was not widely recognized as a recording artist. However, as a teacher, a mentor, and a "caretaker of tradition" [as is stated in the exhaustive liner notes], Edwards was very influential and important to the preservation of this music.

Archie Edwards was well known to all of the blues artists of his day. He learned his craft from those who had preceded him and, to those who came after; he passed on what he had learned. This old bluesman was a sort of Professor Emeritus of the blues who had a lasting influence on Blues artists spanning several generations.

Blues University was Edwards' barbershop, the Alpha Tonsorial Palace, which became a Washington D.C. landmark. For decades after the barbershop opened in 1959, between haircuts and shaves, a rotating gathering of players that spanned the generations picked away at the Blues, continuing a tradition of passing on the old songs from the old players to the young.

"A historian both of his own life and of his art form, Archie had a keen sense of his own place in history and a comfortable awareness of his role as a spokesperson for the Virginia country blues tradition he felt was undervalued and neglected." [ Barry Lee Pearson's liner notes]

In June of 1986, Archie Edwards was in Toronto to perform a concert and was persuaded by producer Serge Sloimovits to go into the studio. The result was enough songs on tape to produce two albums, but the songs were never released. When Fred Litwin founded NorthernBlues Music in 2000, he heard about this nearly forgotten musical treasure and approached Sloimovits, from whom he bought the master tapes. The result is this historic CD.

This is no field-recording but a clean, well-produced studio recording of an accomplished musician in his prime. It's a pleasure to hear these simple songs performed in the traditional Piedmont style as passed down from generation to generation. The playing is flawless and the vocals strong and heartfelt. In these recordings of a man and his guitar, his love of the music is evident in every note and every word.

This is more than just a music recording. The Toronto Sessions is an archive of historical importance. Included is a 28 page booklet packed with information on Archie Edwards and the music he played. Included are extensive liner notes, including a biography of the artist, by the scholar Barry Lee Pearson; notes from the publisher Fred Litwin; period photographs of Edwards taken throughout his lifetime; a lengthy and interesting commentary written by Edwards; and complete song lyrics, each including Edwards' commentary on how the song came to be.

Everyone who has an interest in American folk music, blues music, or even the roots of Rock & Roll should have this recording of Archie Edwards in his or her library. It's an important connection to an earlier time that might otherwise have been lost.

Those who may be interested in Learning more about Archie Edwards can find an excellent biography at "The Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation" website.

The Toronto Sessions
Archie Edwards
NorthernBlues Music
14 tracks

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