For Bill Edwards, the basement provides the ideal music lab and creation space.
The Ann Arbor country singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist retreated to his subterranean studio during the pandemic and experimented with his recording gear.
“When we went into lockdown and realized we weren’t going to be playing live for several months, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn the ins and outs of my recording software. I wanted to get better acquainted with MIDI instruments, or musical instrument digital interfaces,” Edwards said.
“MIDI instruments have come a long way since their invention, and the sampled instruments that are available now are just incredible. It gave me the opportunity to do things like drums, bass and pedal steel, and a whole world opened up.”
Eighteen months later, Edwards’ MIDI software explorations have resulted in an ambitious, yet prolific 30-track double album, Whole Cloth, out Friday via Regaltone Records.
“It feels like birthing a very large baby, and I’m really proud of it for a lot of reasons. I think the songs are good, and the fact that I was able to do it all by myself feels like a pretty big accomplishment,” said Edwards, who spent 15 months writing and recording his new album.
“Over that period, I probably had 70 songs, and I would finish one and then move on to the next and start building it together. I didn’t plan to do a double CD, but then I had all this stuff, and I thought, ‘Well, why not just put it all out?”
Unraveling the ‘Whole Cloth’
As Edwards’ eighth album, Whole Cloth splendidly serves as a poignant, reflective novel of Americana songs that revisit vivid life experiences about newfound love, heartbreak, loneliness and the passage of time. Each track provides a compelling countrified glimpse into personal growth, lessons learned and cherished moments.
“For instance, on ‘Somethin’s Gotta Give,’ I’ve never owned a truck, but I have been on my back under a car banging on something to try to get it to work. On the love, heartbreak and near-miss songs, everybody’s experienced that, and maybe not the exact specifics of those songs, but you have to have those experiences in order to writing something like that,” Edwards said.
Edwards eloquently showcases his experiential songwriting on the album’s fetching opener and first single, “Thing She Does,” which celebrates the beautiful nuances of someone special. Exuberant acoustic strums, thumping drums, crashing cymbals, driving bass, calm organ, thoughtful lap steel, jovial hand claps and fuzzy electric guitars sonically capture a lifelong admiration.
He shares, “You might think it’d start to fade/But I doubt it ever will/I swear the woman’s custom-made/To make my heart stand still/People talk about her style/And her witty repartee/But it’s the little things she does/Man, that really gets to me.”
“You almost don’t want to tell the other person about it because you don’t want them to be self-conscious about it. You want them to do the things they do, and you’ll still love it. You don’t have to say anything about it; you just watch for it,” said Edwards, who wrote the track about his wife.
“The video is completely DIY, and I taught myself how to do multi-camera video and how to edit in Final Cut Pro. I wanted to show it’s all me, so it cuts between me singing, and when the instrumental breaks happen, it cuts to me playing lap steel,” he said.
“I’m full-time at this now since I’m retired from my day job. I love figuring stuff out, and I worked at a software company for years before I retired. Getting into the details of how something works is second nature for me. It was more fun than it was a chore.”
Edwards continues to reveal additional threads, or singles, from Whole Cloth, including the twangy, dancy “Let’s Raise a Ruckus,” as hopeful fiddle, steady drums, breezy electric guitar, introspective acoustic guitar and relaxed bass instantly invite listeners to break into a two-step.
He sings, “Every evening when the sun goes down/I swear they roll up every street in our pint-sized town/Opportunities for fun are far and few/So here’s what I think we should do.”
“The first one is quite up-tempo, and I wanted to do sort of a ballady thing, but not too ballady and sort of mid-tempo for the second one. Then, I wanted to do the twin-fiddle, Texas-swing thing, so I can do a split-screen showing me playing two fiddles at once,” said Edwards, who recently released a DIY video for “Let’s Raise a Ruckus.”
When he’s not swinging in the streets, Edwards earnestly wishes for simpler times on “Sing Me,” which features a Ken Burns-inspired companion video with performance footage and compelling still images.
The insightful ballad also serves as the perfect sonic companion for walking down an isolated Washtenaw County dirt road as optimistic fiddle, contemplative acoustic strums, tranquil bass, eager mandolin and smooth drums glide alongside Edwards.
Edwards reveals, “Close your eyes and really let it go/Conjure up the world we once knew/I’ll harmonize with my fiddle and my bow/Sing it strong, sing it true.”
“I like a lot of different kinds of music, and I would be bored just doing one kind of thing. It’s not like I’m an international star where I have a musical image to maintain; I can do whatever I want,” he said.
Overcoming a Paralyzed Vocal Cord
While writing, recording and producing the 30 tracks for Whole Cloth, Edwards unexpectedly suffered a paralyzed vocal cord for three months from a non-COVID health issue. From November 2020 to February 2021, he was unable to sing during that time.
“I caught a cold and got over it, but then my voice started to get raspy. The cold affected the nerves that control each side of the vocal cords. The doctor said it was laryngitis, and that it would clear up, and it didn’t,” Edwards said.
“I finally got into an ENT guy at Michigan Medicine, and they saw one of my vocal cords was opening and closing just fine and the other was stationary. The one thing the specialist couldn’t tell me is that it would resolve, and that I’d get better. I couldn’t sing at all.”
Faced with being unable to sing, Edwards underwent speech therapy and temporarily focused on recording instrumental tracks for Whole Cloth. What resulted were three spellbinding songs, including the medieval, fiddle-fueled “Billy’s Lament,” the peaceful, refreshing lap steel-esque “Daydream” and the classically tinged closer, “Adagio #1 in A Minor.”
“I sat down and said to myself, ‘Well, if you can’t sing, then it doesn’t mean you can’t do music. You can still do instrumental stuff.’ I had ‘Billy’s Lament,’ which is a fiddle tune I wrote, and I played guitar behind it. And then I did ‘Daydream,’ which is inspired by Santo & Johnny’s ‘Sleep Walk,’” he said.
“Then I got into string arranging and did ‘Adagio’ as almost a classical piece as the last thing on the record. Also during that time, my friend Inanna Andres was putting her own home studio together, and I asked her if she’d like to try to sing a song because I couldn’t.”
With Edwards as the arranger and producer, Andres lent her soulful lead vocals on the romantic jazzy ballad, “Elsewhere,” and provided soothing harmonies on the twangy domestic anthem, “Home to You,” as well as “Sing Me.”
“I think we got a really good blend. In this day and age, I could put a track on Google Drive, and she could drag it into her software, sing along with it and put it back on Google Drive, and I could pull it into my software. It’s just such an amazing time when you can do stuff like that remotely without any fear,” said Edwards, who met Andres through a mutual friend in their song salon.
By collaborating with Andres, working on instrumentals and getting speech therapy, Edwards slowly overcame his paralyzed vocal cord and regained the use of his singing voice.
“I’ve been singing a lot since, and I think I’m singing better now than before in some way. By February, I was back to full strength, but I had to go back and record the vocals on some songs,” he said.
Preparing for Friday’s Release Show
To celebrate Whole Cloth, Edwards will host a free album release show Friday outside his Ann Arbor home on Antietam Court. It will serve as one of his first live performances since the pandemic hit in March 2020.
“I’ve got a way now that I can put the tracks without my voice and the acoustic guitar onto my looper pedal. I’ll be able to do songs from the album with a full-band arrangement and do them live,” Edwards said.
“I was trying to find a venue, but a lot of venues aren’t even open yet, and they can’t have enough people in to make it worthwhile. I was thinking about it, and we live in a cul-de-sac, and it has this big grassy court right out in front of the house. I thought, ‘Well, what the heck? Let’s just put on a show.”
“Lauren came out with a solo CD right in the middle of the pandemic. She couldn’t do anything in terms of a release concert, so I said, ‘Why don’t you open for me? And then you can have your show, too. Her songs are spectacular – they’re like nobody else’s,” Edwards said.
Special guest: Lauren Crane
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27 | Rain date: Saturday, Aug. 28
Antietam Court in Ann Arbor