Can traditional rock'n'roll survive in the modern world? As long as Dave Edmunds is around, the answer will be yes. A rousing singer, superlative guitarist and wizard producer, the Welsh native has preserved the simplicity and directness of '50s rock without ever sounding like a slavish revivalist. Along the way, he's also performed tricks with country music and even Phil Spector's elaborate constructions. Edmunds has had his ups and downs on record, but the one thing he's never been is pretentious.
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Dave prefaced his solo career with two LPs as the leader of manic blues-psychedelic trio Love Sculpture. Those days are well documented on numerous compilations, the best being a two-disc French set, Dave Edmunds, Rocker.
Rockpile was recorded because Edmunds needed to make an LP to capitalize on his worldwide smash single, a one-man remake of "I Hear You Knockin'," the classic Dave Bartholomew number from the mid-'50s. This LP established the boundaries of the first phase of his solo career: a Chuck Berry tune, a Willie Dixon blues, a country stomp (by Neil Young, no less) and so on. Rockpile is a mishmash in terms of recording dates--one track was cut in 1966--and creation, with Edmunds playing almost all the instruments himself. No matter--it rocks like crazy.
Of the 40 cuts on the two-LP soundtrack/compilation for the David Essex film Stardust, seven are fine covers of oldies by Edmunds. A point to note here: six of those tracks are credited to the Stray Cats--years in advance of Brian Setzer's group.
By 1975, the unprolific Edmunds had a few more UK hits and enough other odds and ends to assemble another LP; unfortunately Subtle as a Flying Mallet doesn't hold together. The Everly Brothers' "Leave My Woman Alone" and a few other individual tracks work, but this is otherwise a largely lifeless record. The intricate one-man Spector homages ("Maybe," "Baby I Love You," etc.) are pretty but strained. Two tracks recorded live with Brinsley Schwarz point to the end of Edmunds' hibernation in the studio.
Get It lets air into the musty, old room of Edmunds' musical mind. Dave still laid down a lot of the tracks unaided, but also utilized the services of members of the Rumour and the now-defunct Brinsleys, forming a significant partnership with the latter's Nick Lowe. Highlights of this bright-sounding LP include Lowe's Chuck Berry rewrite, "I Knew the Bride," and the Lowe/Edmunds sprightly salute to the Everly Brothers, "Here Comes the Weekend."
Tracks on Wax 4 hardens and intensifies the attack, fully freeing Edmunds from the negative aspects of his nostalgic leanings. Give credit for that to the formation of Rockpile, a hard-working band composed of Edmunds, Lowe on bass, guitarist Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams; over the following few years, Rockpile recorded both Lowe and Edmunds solo albums, then cut one under the group name before splintering. On Tracks on Wax 4, they drive Dave to new heights of rock'n'roll glory.
Perhaps his best effort, Repeat When Necessary follows the course set by Tracks on Wax, with a bit of country sweetening. Standouts: Elvis Costello's "Girls Talk," "Queen of Hearts" (later a hit for Juice Newton) and the sultry "Black Lagoon."
Following the acrimonious breakup of Rockpile, Edmunds rushed out Twangin..., a resounding disappointment. Despite the presence of a few pearls, this is clearly an inferior patchwork. Outtakes deserve to remain outtakes. The return to the claustrophobic one-man-band sound of his early days is particularly disheartening.
The Best of Dave Edmunds, thirteen tracks from the four Swan Song LPs, makes no chronological sense, but offers an impressive musical overview.
D.E. 7th marks a return to form. With a hot new supporting cast, Edmunds boogies like a happy man again. Springsteen's "From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come)" and a rip-roaring version of NRBQ's "Me and the Boys" lead the parade.
Information and Riff Raff comprise Edmunds' Jeff Lynne period: a horrendously ill-advised attempt to concoct slick, saleable "contemporary" product, with ELO leader Lynne acting as unlikely production/songwriting svengali. Though both albums have some good moments (the undeniably catchy "Slippin' Away" and another fine NRBQ cover on the former; good Paul Brady and Four Tops tunes, plus the demented roller-rink extravaganza "Rules of the Game" on the latter), they're largely characterized by a glib, crass sensibility that's fundamentally at odds with the unselfconscious enthusiasm that's always driven Edmunds' best work.
In contrast to those discs, the Porky's Revenge soundtrack is--believe it or not--a fine collection of rootsy, unpretentious rock'n'roll. In addition to some sharp cuts of his own, Edmunds produced worthy tracks for Jeff Beck, George Harrison (a new Dylan tune), Clarence Clemons and a studio supergroup featuring Edmunds' former Swan Song mentor, Robert Plant.
Edmunds' artistic productivity may have dipped in the mid-'80s, but his career as a producer stayed hot all decade. He guided the latter-day Stray Cats to the top of the charts and fulfilled a longstanding ambition of working with the Everly Brothers by producing their 1984 comeback album. He produced k.d. lang's debut and a new Dion album, and even reunited with old cohort Nick Lowe to produce Basher's Party of One.
The unprepossessing but delectable I Hear You Rockin' was recorded live in London, New York and New Jersey with Edmunds' post-Rockpile band: veteran pub-rock pianist Geraint Watkins, guitarist Mickey Gee, bassist John David and drummer/engineer Dave Charles. Edmunds touches all the obvious bases with little fanfare (save some intrusive synthesizer), reprising the better half of his Swan Song compilation while adding "I Hear You Knocking," "Information," "Paralyzed," "Slipping Away" and a fine reading of Dion's "The Wanderer."
Closer to the Flame, Edmunds' first solo studio effort in six years, isn't quite the resounding comeback that one would hope for, but it's a big improvement over the Lynne-influenced discs, with convincing stops at rockabilly ("King of Love," "Sincerely") and R&B (the title song, "Test of Love"), plus a pair of songs each by pub-rock legend Micky Jupp and NRBQ's Al Anderson.
(Jon Young, Ira Robbins, Scott Schinder)
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