These days, Bill Edwards views love as the soundtrack of his life.
The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter eloquently chronicles his evolving thoughts about love on his latest album, “Sounds Like Love,” which dropped in October on Regaltone Records.
“A year ago I decided I wanted to do an album of love songs. It seems like the times we’re going through right now we can use as much love as we can get,” Edwards said. “They’re not all songs that say ‘I love you.’ Some are about the complications and the darker side of some love relationships. I think they’re at least loosely related to the concept of love.”
“Sounds Like Love” features 13 stellar tracks highlighting the ups and downs of love from different perspectives and moments in time – new love, lost love, lifelong love, past love and unrequited love. On each track, Edwards gently moves listeners from one soundbite of love to the next along a fascinating emotional path that includes paint, hurricanes and boxcars.
“I write about a song a week, and it’s just my creative outlet. I had accumulated quite a number of songs to choose from, and I just picked those 13 for the record,” he said. “I’ve long wanted to do an album all by myself in my own home studio, and I’ve accumulated an embarrassing amount of recording gear.”
Sounds Like Love
For his seventh album, Edwards played all the instruments, including guitar, violin and harmonica, and recorded and mixed the entire project in a matter of months. He also tested different album mixes on home and car stereos before finalizing it for an October release show at Ann Arbor’s Black Crystal Cafe.
At the show, Edwards performed “Sounds Like Love” in its entirety and shared stories behind some of his favorite tracks – “Paint the Town Blue,” “Every Time It Rains” and “Far and Wide.”
“Paint the Town Blue” opens with bright mandolin strums that whisk listeners back to the carefree days of their youth with each vigorous pluck – “I can see you tonight/Like you’re still checking your makeup in my rearview mirror/Feet up on the dashboard/Hair in the wind/Hopped up and grinning like you just invented sin.”
Meanwhile, “Every Time It Rains” radiates with intense, brief acoustic guitar strums and a Springsteen-esque storyline – “Nothing I can do seems to reach her since the hurricane/Every time it rains/Every breeze that blows/She stops to listen/Desperate to know what’s coming next.” The track also morphs into an exquisite mandolin solo that’s intertwined with romantic acoustic guitars.
“I think those two are a little bit more emotionally complicated. ‘Paint the Town Blue’ is basically the story of young love that went wrong, and ‘Every Time It Rains’ is just so timely because of all the storms and other natural disasters that are going on,” Edwards said.
“I think people don’t think so much about the people involved in those things. I liked the fact that it showed some empathy for people who are going through those natural disasters, which appears that we’re going to have more frequently now.”
The album’s closing track, “Far and Wide” is a poetic ode to graffiti artists who create artwork in rail yards. Affectionately known as “Rembrandt of the Rail,” the song’s traveling acoustic strums allow listeners to envision the life of a nomadic artist who hops trains and paints different cars along the way.
In a sense, Edwards’ musical journey mirrors the “Rembrandt of the Rail” graffiti artist featured in “Far and Wide.” As a kid, he listened to Peter, Paul and Mary records with his parents, saw the Wellfleet Singers perform at a shopping center in Cape Cod and received his first acoustic guitar from a Sears catalog.
After living briefly in Princeton, Ill., his family relocated to Buffalo where Edwards learned to play acoustic guitar at age 12 and developed a deep appreciation for James Taylor and Joni Mitchell during the singer-songwriter movement of the early ‘70s. Edwards started writing his own songs and expanded his musical palate to include country and bluegrass, thanks to Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.
“I played the weekend warrior stuff in bands around Buffalo, and my day job led me out to Indiana for a year, and there was nothing to do there,” he said. “I joined a band that played every weekend, and it was called the Country Pride Band. I just joined as the guitar player, and it was my real introduction to playing electric guitar in a band.
Edwards later relocated to Buffalo and then spent five years in Connecticut, where he joined an electric country cover band called Blaze. In 1989, he visited a Connecticut record store and saw an application for a national songwriting contest sponsored by Billboard magazine.
Edwards submitted a demo for “Ace in Place,” a country swing tune, that beat out more than 10,000 other submissions and received accolades from Dwight Yoakam and Roy Clark. He won some money, a Les Paul guitar and a single-song publishing contract in Nashville.
“It was really kind of an amazing fluke. Up until that point, I never really understood that songwriting was a job,” Edwards. “I just thought you do it, and you sing your own songs, but the idea that someone else might want to record your songs, or that there are people who make their living from songwriting, that never occurred to me.”
By 1993, Edwards relocated to Ann Arbor for work and focused on songwriting through the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) organization. He attended songwriting workshops and co-wrote tracks with other Nashville-based songwriters.
“People have described it as dating. You have to be really comfortable with the other person, and you have to find somebody with who you’re really compatible,” Edwards said. “I’ve tried it with a variety of people. I think the problem was for me mostly that I have been too easy, and I need to be tougher on my co-writers.”
By 2012, Edwards decided to perform again and tested his own songs during open mic nights at The Ark before taking them to Nashville. He teamed up with Susie Keat of SDQ Arts Management to book and perform at live shows throughout the Michigan singer-songwriter circuit. Edwards also launched his own record label, Regaltone Records, in 2004 and released six other albums.
Eventually, a series of songwriters in the round sessions led him to work with Judy Banker, Jennifer Smith, John Holkeboer, Mark Jewett, Jason Dennie, Judy Insley, Chris Buhalis, Dave Boutette, Dave Keeney and other renowned Tree Town artists.
“I don’t remember as many musicians in Buffalo when I was starting out, but we have a lot of really good writers and performers in this area,” Edwards said. “We’re blessed with a bunch of listening rooms in Michigan, too.”
Edwards continues to perform regularly in Ann Arbor and metro Detroit. Tomorrow night, he’ll share the stage with The HEP Cats, aka George Heritier and Joel Palmer, as part of the Live! From The Living Room Acoustic Showcase at Unity Church of Lake Orion. He’ll also open for Annie and Rod Capps’ “When They Fall” CD release show Nov. 16 at MAMA’s Coffeehouse in Bloomfield Hills.
“I just purchased a little thing called a looper pedal that allows you to record the rhythm part while you’re playing and singing,” Edwards said. “Then, you can hit it, and it will play back the rhythm part, and you can solo over it. I have to get my arms around that, but it will help a lot.”
Outside of performing, Edwards will start working on his next album and record several new music videos for YouTube. He’s ready to use a new video camera and recording gear to prepare for his next big creative challenge.
“I learned so much from doing this one both in the recording and the mixing,” he said. “The next time around I’m sort of eager to do it again. You learn stuff, and you know how to do it better. I just have to figure out what the theme of the next one is gonna be.”
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