Review – Honeyboy Edwards – Roamin’ and Ramblin

Posted on: Tuesday, May 6, 2008


HONEYBOY EDWARDS “Roamin’ and Ramblin'” (Earwig CD 4953)

This impassioned collection from Chicago’s Earwig label is part guitar/harmonica tour de force, part living history. Honeyboy, of course, is the last of the great original acoustic Delta blues players whose life story is so soaked in all the right stuff that it makes the term “living legend” seem totally inadequate.

Born to a sharecropper in 1915 to hear his grandmother’s stories of slavery days, he enjoyed a teenage life-affirming moment of seeing Tommy Johnson play for the first time before going on to survive a spell on the chain gang – and then actually being present to witness the agonising death of Robert Johnson. Howlin’ Wolf and he were teenage farmhands together and his long, long career has seen him entwined with a genuine A-list that reads like a blues who’s who.

But this excellent album sees him offer new material that is genuinely convincing and relevant. The set largely celebrates the pre-war era when Honeyboy was regularly gigging with all the great Delta harp players. Little of this was ever recorded so producer Michael Frank has brought on board current harmonica aces Billy Branch, Bobby Rush and Johnny “Yard Dog” Jones to take on old classics.  Mixed in are older recordings – with Sugar Blue and Walter Horton from the ’70s, a couple with Frank Himself and, not least, a 1942 recording of “The Army Blues” collected by folklorist Alan Lomax, featuring Edwards himself on harmonica, plus a few snippets of illuminating conversation.

Can you see join? Well, yes, the 1942 material is naturally a more rustic recording. But there is a raw, passionate and honest emotion to the whole set that makes most of it pleasingly difficult to date.
The many fine harmonica duets dominate but my own favourite track is a solo dating from 1976, “Trouble Everywhere I Go,” where Honeyboy’s uncompromosing vocal gives way to some truly great picking.
“Crawling Kingsnake” and “How Long” are gems from the 2007 recordings while the 97 seconds of mellow shuffle that is “Strolling Down Highway 61” hit a perfect laid-back groove.

Honeyboy is about to tour the UK, he says for the last time. The only north-west date is Birkenhead’s Pacific Road Arts Centre on June 2, a few weeks short of the great man’s 93rd birthday. Be there and treasure the moment. It won’t happen again.


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