Thursday, September 14, 2023

Ed Sweeney: “A Sunday Drive” (2023) CD Review

Ed Sweeney is a musician who works in the traditional folk realm, with a tremendous talent and also a passion for music and its history. He released his first album, The Times, They Are Something Like They Used To Be, in 1982 (I love that title, by the way), and has followed that with several others over the years, including two Christmas albums. On his new album, A Sunday Drive, he is joined by Cathy Clasper-Torch on fiddle, cello and erhu. Cathy Clasper-Torch has played and recorded with several other musicians, and also released a solo album, Here Between, in 2011. On this new album, they deliver mostly traditional folk numbers, songs in the public domain, though there are also some more modern numbers and an original composition by Ed Sweeney.

Opening an album with “Auld Lang Syne” is an interesting choice, for it’s a song about recalling times gone by. Often people place this at or near the end of an album, but this song, traditionally associated with New Year’s Eve, makes sense at the beginning, particularly of an album that does often look back. And these guys deliver a beautiful instrumental rendition. Cathy’s fiddle is particularly gorgeous, seeming to promise that the next year is going to be glorious, or at least that we’ll all get through it together. We need that kind of hope. That’s followed by “A Long Time Traveling.” On this one, Ed Sweeney plays banjo. “I’m a long time traveling here below/A long time traveling away from my home/I’m a long time traveling here below/Gonna lay this body down.” Yes, the second song is about getting close to the end. But I suppose this too is about a possible new beginning. For there is hope here too, as he sings that he will “bid farewell to every tear and wipe my weeping eyes.” That line is also sung in “When I Can Read My Title Clear,” though in that song the word is “fear” not “tear.”

“Right Foot Out” begins with some pretty work on guitar, softly grabbing you. And the work on strings is incredibly moving. This song was written by Stephen Snyder, and is one of my personal favorites on this album. It is an ultimately positive and uplifting song, as he sings, “Mama, lift me up/I want to learn to walk away/I put my right foot out/I put my right foot out/See me walk away.” Though there is also something sad in it, an end of innocence, a leaving of home, at least those first steps away. This track is sad and beautiful and true. That’s followed by “Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie,” another song about the end, about the grave. And on this track, Ed Sweeney and Cathy Clasper-Torch are joined by Daryl Black Eagle Jamiesen on drum and rattle. “I’ve always wished/To be laid when I die/In a little churchyard/On the green hillside/By my father’s grave/Just let me be.” Death has been on my mind a lot in recent years. It seems to be hanging out in the air, snatching folks at will, and without provocation, though I suppose that’s always been the case. They then cover one of The Beatles’ best songs, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” delivering a beautiful and moving instrumental rendition.

“A Lament For The Death Of The Reverend Archie Beaton” is a beautiful Irish instrumental number in the public domain. Cathy Clasper-Torch delivers some excellent work here. Ed Sweeney then switches back to banjo for “Walking Boss,” which has a nice, raw edge. “I worked all day, took no pay, took no pay/And I slept in a shanty too.” The violin then rises up as if to protest these conditions, to appeal to a higher source, or to sing in praise of the resilience of the human spirit. That is followed by the album’s only original song, “A Little Traveling Music,” written by Ed Sweeney. This is an instrumental number to accompany you on your way. There is some blues in here, because isn’t there always a bit of the blues when you’re on the road?

“When I Get Home” is yet another track that addresses death. “I will lay my burdens down when I get home,” Ed Sweeney sings near the beginning of this one. “When I get home, when I get home/All sorrow will be over when I get home.” This song is preparing us, I suppose. It is always interesting to me when a song seems to look forward to death. Perhaps it’s because I personally have no interest in dying. I would miss too many concerts if I did that. “When I Get Home” is followed by “A Childhood Medley.” We keep thinking about the end of the road while listening to this album, but this piece takes us back to the beginning, reminding us of our childhood. It’s an instrumental medley that begins with “Frere Jacques.” Ed Sweeney gives a little laugh at the end. The album then concludes with “Distant Shore,” a pretty song written by Mary King. “So come back, my darling, no matter where you be/Come back, my darling, come back to me/I will follow you, my dear/Across the distant shore.”

CD Track List

  1. Auld Lang Syne
  2. A Long Time Traveling
  3. Right Foot Out
  4. Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie
  5. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  6. A Lament For The Death Of The Reverend Archie Beaton
  7. Walking Boss
  8. A Little Traveling Music
  9. When I Get Home
  10. A Childhood Medley
  11. Distant Shore

A Sunday Drive is scheduled to be released on October 6, 2023.

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