Jangling Sparrow Paul Edelman Proves That Contentment Doesn’t Always Kill the Songwriter

Kevin Oliver

Since moving to Asheville, N.C., five years ago from his native Philadelphia, Paul Edelman, who performs in various configurations as The Jangling Sparrow, has been happy — which has become a big worry when it comes to his music.

“I get my inspiration from the darker side of human nature, so I was concerned a happy life would destroy my writing,” Edelman says. “I spent a few years pushing that kind of progress in my life off; I truly believe that happiness comes not from ignoring scary thoughts, however, but facing them.
With a wife and a teenage stepdaughter who’s a model student, Edelman the musician might have cause for concern, but he’s not really a confessional songwriter. He’s more a detached storyteller, observing his surroundings and mining them for content without making it all about him.

“I need to close off from the family dynamic when I’m in the process of writing songs,” he explains, “I’m like Jack in The Shining about getting interrupted when I’m in the writing mode.”

That single-minded focus bears fruit on Stranger Things and Truer Words, Edelman’s latest album, one that he is pushing out for a wider national release come August. With a drawl like Steve Forbert and a weariness worthy of Ryan Adams, songs such as “The Highway Doesn’t Know” have a John Prine-like eye for detail. “Campfire Song” sounds much like a real fireside rumination written beside a slowly dying bed of coals. “Trouble is a Stray” begins like a portentous Dylan outtake from the Freewheelin’ era, but Edelman swears no particular allegiance to Bob or any other musical iconoclast.

“My influences from any big-name artists are more visceral,” he claims, “I consider Dylan like every other songwriter — he wrote brilliant songs for the time he wrote them in and capitalized on what was going on musically. I respect his career like I do Picasso’s, or Clint Eastwood’s; they all have prolific and long runs and have ignored their critics.”

One of the more interesting influences on the new album came from a serendipitous neighbor.

“This guy moved in upstairs from me,” Edelman recalls, “a super nice guy with white hair and a ponytail who told me he was playing piano at a resort in the mountains. He wanted to come over and jam and I kept blowing him off thinking I wouldn’t really be into what he was doing — until the day he brought his laptop with him, so he could show me a clip of his last show. It was him playing on The Tonight Show with Mavis Staples.”

That upstairs neighbor turned out to be keyboardist Steve Fordham, who spent years in Staples’ backing ensemble and played all the piano and organ parts on Edelman’s new album. Fordham contributes to Stranger Things’ fuller, more band-like atmosphere, injecting a little bit of soul into Edelman’s otherwise standard singer-songwriter stance.

The singer’s current live setup features just him and a keyboard player — not Fordham, who now resides in Colorado — though he has done everything from solo shows to fronting a three- or four-piece band. But however he performs, Edelman is happy with where he’s at.

“It’s beautiful here,” he says of his mountain home. “I can come home from a bad day at work, see the Smoky Mountains over the hill and think, ‘Oh, yeah, I live here,’ and be alright.”

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