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Judith Edelman does more with less

By Clarissa Sansone, July 2000

Page 2...

Of the music, she heart during her time in Kenya and Zimbabwe, Edelman says, "I loved it; I really loved itÉ.I would love to go back now that my musical horizons have broadened."

It was bluegrass, however, that piqued her musical interest. After falling ill while abroad, she occupied her time playing a guitar, and once she returned to the States - to San Francisco - she began bluegrass guitar lessons.

Prior to going to Africa, Edelman had been involved in bluegrass music "not at all."

"I'd done singing a little bit in bands," she notes, and she had friends who were bluegrass musicians.

After Edelman took up the guitar, she says, "One day I got a call from a banjo player," who wanted to know if she wanted to tour, and that began her touring stint with the band Ryestraw.

Edelman says she "cut (her) teeth on the hardcore bluegrass festivals," but feels that with her current sound, "I really don't fit in at traditional bluegrass festivals (any more)."

She still gets labeled a "bluegrass" musician, a distinction she finds both beneficial and restricting: "It does help to include me inÉbluegrass radio formatÉIn other ways, it definitely limits, because (my music) isn't traditional," she admits.

Bluegrass' influence continues to be present in her music, as evidenced not only by her band's instrumentation and sound, but also by the musicians who have been featured on her albums, including Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown and Tim O'Brien.

Just as Edelman has applied what she learned from playing bluegrass to developing an original sound, she used her touring experience in starting her own band and her recording experience to produce her own album.

In 1995, Edelman formed the Judith Edelman Band. "I was sort of on the cusp of recording at that point," she explains, "and I needed to develop liveÉ(to) take that leap into the void."

"Before we even had a sound," she goes on, "we had gigs." After gaining experience fronting her own band, Edelman was introduced to Nashville producer Bill VornDick, who produced "Perfect World" and "Only Sun" two years later.

Of her first time in the studio, Edelman says, "I had not the faintest idea what I was doing...I left it in the hands of the producer."

After another album was released, however, she became more confident and comfortable. She decided to co-produce "Drama Queen" with Flinner because "When you get so comfortable with something, it's time to kick yourself in the ass." And kick she did: "(Producing) the album was such a lesson in so many ways, my learning curve was vertical," Edelman says, adding, "The minute it's in the can, you're like, 'I could make 20 times a better album.'"

And she'd like to produce that next album "all by (herself)."

Edelman takes what she's learned about life and applies it to songwriting. "You learn what you need and you sort of cut out what's extraneous in life and in general," she says.

With this approach, she eschews the self-indulgent, and instead gives the listener spare, carefully colored portraits of ordinary people in simply significant lives. "I don't feel like confessing my heart," Edelman says, "except as it pertains to other people's dramas."

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