A life in five instalments.
This EP covers a life. Born in the sunny warm California light, ‘Some Songs’ dies in the cold winter of northern Alabama. Though totally complete, those familiar with Ata’s debut ‘Saudade’ released two years ago, there is a distinct link between the full length album and this ensuing EP. Ata, stage name of Jesse Daniel Edwards, has a raw lyrical sound which comes across much more directly in only five songs, in contrast with its predecessor. Pinning Edwards into the confines of a particular genre is pointless. Perhaps an early 90s indie band that was turning itself into ‘americana’? Whatever, but Edwards has had an interesting life. One of six children whose musical talent allowed him to learn a prodigiously diverse array of instruments including guitar, banjo, mandolin, oboe, sax, piano and clarinet. But his father’s deep religious convictions meant no pop music. Imagine not hearing Dylan until your mid 20s? Breaking out by moving to Nashville Edwards worked as tour manager for acts as diverse as Lucinda Williams and Morrissey but what kept his own musical ideas alive was having as a mentor Al Bunetta, John Prine’s manager.
If anyone knew storytelling it was Prine and via Bunetta some of that rubbed off on Edwards. With encouragement from his friend and co-writer Jake Rosswog, ‘Saudade’ bursts with a creativity desperate to get out. ‘Some Songs’ picks up where they left off. Edwards’s hard rock chords blast off ‘Someone Else’s Rising Sun’ as in a voice that sounds quite English he spits out at some pace, “I’m out of touch/ you’re out of reach/ I’m out of luck.” Sierra Ferrall adds backing vocals to boost the sonic urgency. Still feeling out of place ‘California Girl’ with a baritone sax screaming speed emphasises how he just cannot keep up.
Gloom descends with ‘Interlude’, a brief piano solo laden with pathos. Sunny California is now far away but what lies ahead? Not much. Lauren Farrah’s voice matches the bleakness of the “broken stones, ashes, cold cinders/ more four walls much less a home” where he finds himself. Edwards has left his earlier brash rock far behind as he moves into singer/songwriter mode with this sensitive duet. ‘This House Comes With A Ghost’ laments a life that might have been but is now as empty and depressing as the physical surroundings.
From there it is a short step to demise in ‘Halfway to Huntsville’ where Edwards is back at his piano rolling across the keys as “heaven’s heavy gates swing wide/ for the angels and the saints but I/ don’t want any kind of paradise without you”. There is a half-hearted attempt at regret but far more convincing is his acceptance that this life is over.
In five relatively short songs Juni Ata/Jesse Daniel Edwards has traversed half of a continent and much of a life. From bleak solos through rock and roll to the full orchestral treatment listening to ‘Some Songs’ feels like a double album.