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A. Lee Edwards

Alan (A. Lee) Edwards has never really seemed to care about being famous. In fact, one might argue he has studiously avoided it at every turn. 

Regarding his previous bands – the odd-fellow  Elephant 6 quintet Chocolate USA, feted pioneers/NC legends Lou Ford, the bluegrass-tinged Loudermilks – Edwards says that while roughly equal parts alcohol and attitude often equated to onstage fireworks, it also led to the occasional blow-up, often of the Vesuvian variety. 

“I’m not sure what my expectations were in those days, but I admittedly sabotaged most opportunities that we were presented with,” Edwards says now. 

Like anyone, Edwards acknowledges that recognition is always nice – whether it be from friends, fans, other musical luminaries, or the lady down at the diner. He’s never played music for the money, know this. He’s done it for self-expression, and because he likes it, and because he’s good at it, and maybe, when he was like 13, he did it because it looked cool. Edwards’ songs are like Raymond Carver stories after Gordon Lish got done with ‘em: spare, sweet, and savage. You don’t write those kinds of songs if you’re looking for an easy buck. Those kinds of songs take time to write. What’s more, they take courage. 

Speaking of things that take courage: Edwards has gotten older, gotten sober, and gotten into living as a listener, all of which are A) difficult and B) rewarding. I never thought I’d see an Edwards-affiliated record with “Heart Sounds” in the title, but that’s what he’s doing here: giving us an EKG reading of what it means to be human. 


Produced by the legendary John Wood (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, John Cale, Richard and Linda Thompson), Interpreting Heart Sounds Vol. I and Interpreting Heart Sounds Vol. II are a major milestone in a career that has    already spawned five critically acclaimed albums — three with Lou Ford and two with The Loudermilks.(EDITORS’ NOTE: Interpreting Heart Sounds Vol. II is slated for release in early 2025.)

“Having John mix my records has been one of the best experiences of my career,” A. Lee insists. “There’s no producer or engineer whose body of work has influenced me more. It still seems surreal that I’ve been given the honor of working with him.” 

It’s a perfect pairing: Edwards has never sounded more at home in the mix, and he’s never been surrounded with such organic, lush instrumentation and fuss-free sonics. Edwards taught himself Merle Travis-style fingerpicking over the past few years -- no easy feat for someone prone to reaching for a pick for the better part of three decades – and these albums, shot through with subtle-yet-sinewy melodic runs -- are a showcase for how thoroughly he studied.  And yet, under all the instrumentation, both discs evidence the pop sensibilities Edwards has always relished: think early-period Beach Boys, Big Star, The Replacements, and -- though he’d probably never admit it – Bread. 

Which is another reason the Wood connection makes so much sense; despite the producer’s well- deserved rep as the master of Britain’s folk revival, he has his own pop bonafides, having engineered Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne,” Richard and Linda Thompson’s soul-baring proto- Americana, and the salty/sweet power pop of Squeeze. 

Speaking of Richard Thompson: Vol. 1 also features a guest appearance by the Master of the Stratocaster himself on the track “John on the Run.” It was a collaboration that Edwards -- owing to his lifelong love of Thompson’s oeuvre, not to mention the Englishman’s sparks-a-flying fretboard wizardry – still talks about with a certain wide-eyed wonder. 

“It’s tremendously cool, and also I don’t know where you go from there,” Edwards says with a chuckle. “Who can follow that?” 

Following that, on the new record at least, is an appearance on the tracks ‘Mexico’ and ‘Mostly’ by the great unsung songwriter Clive Gregson of Any Trouble / Stiff Records fame. 


Recorded at the famed Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville, North Carolina, both albums were engineered by Kenny Harrington, mixed by John Wood at his Analog Mixing studio in Aberdeen Scotland, mastered by Simon Heyworth at Super Audio Mastering in Devon England, lacquers cut by Well Made Music in Bristol, TN, and pressed locally at Citizen Vinyl in Asheville NC. Vol. 1 is a band-oriented effort, while Vol. 2 features a more stripped-down sound with the addition of a string section. 

The songs are both tender and enticing, from the decidedly down home delivery of “Carolina Blue” and the lovely and laid-back lament “Ride On,” to the reflective sounds of “John on the Run,” “Mom (Always Liked You Best)” and “How Blue.” 

Edwards’ personal Hero’s Journey saw his circle come to completion when he returned “home” to the stage in 2017, which saw him playing solo shows near his Franklin, North Carolina cabin in the Nantahala National Forest. Two years later, he began taking the first steps towards what he envisioned as his first solo album, all the while continuing to run the family restaurant, and later, a natural grocery store, full-time. Show dates were sparse, but he still found himself opening for the likes of Chris Smither, Sierra Ferrell and Jimbo Mathus, and even released a well-thought-of single, “South of Sylva.” Then the pandemic hit. 

A year ago, A. Lee, feeling rejuvenated artistically, decided to reboot his music making in earnest. In February of 2023, he gathered a group of musicians and friends for a performance at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts in Franklin, North Carolina. “I had abandoned all but a couple of tracks from my pre-pandemic sessions and had been making plans to record at Echo Mountain,” he says. “I decided to take what was becoming this new band into the studio, and at that point we laid down the initial tracks of what would become Interpreting Heart Sounds Vol 1”. Those sessions were augmented by Matthew Smith (Amy Ray Band, Town Mountain, Amanda Platt and the Honeycutters) on Pedal Steel, Dobro, Guitar and Ryan Stigmon (too many to list) also on pedal steel, dobro, banjo and Julian Pinelli (Peter Rowan, Bella White) on fiddle. “Then I went in for a second time for a solo session.” That solo session was augmented by Franklin Keel on cello, Julian Pinelli on fiddle, upright bass extraordinaire Zack Page and drummer Jim Brock (the Amy Ray band). This became Interpreting Heart Sounds Vol 2. 

Edwards says he’s extraordinarily pleased with the new albums, not only because of the musicians involved (whether local or legendary) but because it also makes a major statement about his desire and determination to reignite his career and bring it full circle. “I wanted to make these records to document my life's work,” he explains. “I’ve got more volumes in me, but I think with these, I’ve accomplished what we set out to do. I’m not trying to set the world on fire, but I’d like for my songs to be heard, hopefully find my audience, and do a little traveling in the process.” 

In a fair world, Heart Sounds will help get A. Lee Edwards not only listened to, but recognized and respected. 

In a just world, they’d see him revered. 

Timothy Charles Davis Nashville, Tennessee 

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