Compass 7 4233 2
review by Art Menius
Perfect World, the debut album from Judith Edelman, may not quite be a perfect record, but it comes pretty dog gone close. Her work combines bold and exquisite vocals, reality based original lyrics, musical diversity, and the support of a superstar session ensemble. The parts gel together into a whole that engages the listener and leaves a good portion of these eleven tracks lingering pleasantly in mind long after the disc has finished.
The promo material describes Edelman’s music as alternative or progressive bluegrass. That makes sense since most of the professional experience for this late blooming Manhattan native has come with the Bay Area based bluegrass outfit Ryestraw. At times the music backs up the claim as well. “Ride On A Train” proves a fabulous bluegrass work out with Compass chief Alison Brown on banjo. The lyrics provide a devilishly fine good bye message (“A ride on a train is like the second chance you couldn’t give me”).
On balance, however, Edelman has to be called a singer-songwriter, but one with solid grounding in roots music, Celtic as well as ‘grass. She moves gracefully from the reggae of the title cut to a Celtic inflected instrumental called “Musical Priest” to the bluegrass of “Ride A Train.” The bluegrass and Celtic influences and virtually all acoustic instrumentation make her music as distinctive as her lyrics. Edelman’s voice combines some of the best aspects of both Nanci Griffith and Joni Mitchell. With only a few exceptions she places her lovely voice out alone, aggressively taking responsibility for her words. She can be as gutsy as on the delightful “Pass It On,” as vulnerable as the closing “My Heart Walks,” or as cranky as “Morning People.”
As a lyricist Edelman focuses on real life situations, seeking and finding beauty in the imperfections of day to day life rather than in romanticism. Listen to the opening lines of “Perfect World:” The baby’s crying, it’s the dead of night/She croons to the little one a dangerous lullaby/It’s a perfect world, a perfect world.” Consider “Not Far To Fall:” “I’m gonna lay low, stay very still/When the blows come, as they always will/They won’t hurt so much; I won’t bleed at all.”
The music sets the mood for and supports her lyrics and singing. Despite stunning musicianship, these players, under the direction of veteran producer Bil Vorn Dick, never upstage Edelman. And what players they are including, among others, Dobro giant Jerry Douglas, extraordinary fiddler Randy Howard, guitarist Clive Gregson, and accomplished young mandolinist Matt Flinner.
Perfect World brings us a singer and composer of exceptional merit. Her music can reach to contemporary folk, bluegrass, Americana, and AAA audiences with a sincerity that cuts through all artificial labels. These eleven original songs pass much too quickly, leaving a feeling that the compact disc is far too short. That’s often the greatest compliment of all.