Artist Profile by Geoffrey Himes

The first voice you hear on Edge City's 2006 album, "Keepers of the Flame," is Jim Patton's, singing his own lyrics, "This isn't the life that I pictured, but this is the life that I chose." As Lloyd Maines' dobro bends the notes towards-but-not-quite-to a different harmony, as the rhythm section of Glenn Fukunaga and Freddie Krc pushes the beat towards-but-not-quite-to another gear, the resulting tension raises the question: Why would anyone choose a life different from the one they pictured? When Patton grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, enthralled by the music of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Neil Young, he pictured himself living a life like his heroes'. He clung to that dream even as he formed his band Edge City and married his singing partner, Sherry Brokus. But the rock star's life is reserved for only a handful and as he reached 35, Patton realized he was not one of the chosen few. At that point, he could have done what many musicians have done: put aside the guitar, find a regular job and raise a family. But that's not the life that he chose. Patton and Brokus realized that as much as they would enjoy the limousines and tractor trailers full of sound equipment that come with stardom, that wasn't their motivation. They came to the music for the thrill they got from hearing Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," Neil Young's "Powderfinger" or Billy Kemp's "Janesville." They stayed with music for the chance to create such thrills themselves. And as they reached their mid-30s, they were finally figuring out how to reach that creative standard. Sure, they would have preferred the life they once pictured, but that wasn't the choice that was offered to them. The choice was between a safe, comfortable middle-class life or a riskier music career. They chose the latter. They decided that the reward of making important music was more important than anything else. They had seen how a lack of recognition had twisted Kemp, Maryland's best singer-songwriter of the '80s, into silence by the mid-'90s. So they weren't going to worry about their low profile; they were going to concentrate on honing their skills. In the early '90s, Edge City recorded a series of remarkable tracks featuring Kemp as producer and guitarist, memorable moments such as "Million Miles Away" and "One False Move." It didn't matter how few people heard this music; it was the real thing. That was enough, for the time being. I had co-produced most of Kemp's recordings, so I followed Edge City's evolution with great interest. I suggested that they might want to attend the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, because it was a focal point for like-minded musicians on a similar mission. I should never have done it, for Patton and Brokus loved Texas so much that they moved away from Maryland, where I live, to Austin in 1994. Our loss was Texas' gain. Austin is the kind of a town where if you go to a party and introduce yourself as a singer-songwriter, you're going to have to pull out a guitar sooner or later and show what you've got. Patton did, and the Texans were impressed by his craft and the passion behind it. Before long he was meeting musicians he had known only from the small print on his record collection. When Edge City released a four-song EP, "Ray of Light," in 1998, Patton and Brokus were backed by the likes of Gurf Morlix, Marvin Dykhuis, Paul Pearcy and Amy Tiven. When the duo released the 12-song album, "Mystery Ride," in 2000, the producer and dobroist was Lloyd Maines of Joe Ely and Dixie Chicks fame, and the musicians included David Grissom, Glenn Fukunaga and Darcie Deaville. This was heady company. Patton and Brokus still weren't making any money to speak of from their music, but they had the satisfaction of hearing their songs played by terrific musicians and the satisfaction of knowing the songs were good enough to deserve such support. Maybe it wasn't the life they had pictured, but it was the life they had chosen. Heartened by these first steps, Patton set out to write an album of new songs. He reworked a set of my old lyrics, reworked an old folk song, co-wrote two songs with his high school pals Lew Morris and Frank Mirenzi, dug out an old song he'd written with Brokus about their daughter Meaghan and wrote nine more by himself. As always, the music sets up camp in that territory where mainstream classic rock overlaps with roots music and singer-songwriters. Edge City wants the words to be heard, but they also want the words to get pushed along by the guitars and drums. After all, Patton does not present himself as a detached observer but as deeply involved participant, and the rhythm represents the urgency he's feeling. The new album, produced by Austin fixture Bradley Kopp, features guitarist Jon Sanchez and fiddler Darcie Deaville from the Edge City road band as well as Maines, Krc and Fukunaga, as mentioned above. In many of these songs, there's a decision waiting to be made. In "Somewhere Else There's a Promised Land," the narrator sits on the marble steps of a Baltimore rowhouse and wonders if he should stick around the neighborhood or go off in search of some elusive utopia. In "Wings of an Airplane," a woman stands in the terminal at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, awaiting the father who abandoned her as a child, wondering whether to stay or go, cry or scream. In "27 Voices," a man listens to the voices in his head, each trying to outshout the other, and wonders which one is telling him the truth. On "Don't Say Goodbye," we're back on those rowhouse steps, as one friend is packing the car to leave town in search of that promised land. The other friend isn't going anywhere, and he wonders what happens now to their friendship. "I wrote the words," Patton sings, "you sang the tune. Don't say 'Goodbye'; say 'See you soon.'" On the opening track, "Fortunate Man," Patton examines his life, the life of the struggling singer-songwriter, a life of tight budgets, small audiences and endless do-it-yourself tasks. This wasn't the life he'd pictured. Was it the life he should have chosen? Yes, he concludes: For I have the fairest of lovers, And I have the truest of friends. And I have a place I can go When my darkness descends. And I have a dream still inside me, And I've got this guitar in my hand. Measured by that, I am a fortunate man.

-Geoffrey Himes writes about music for the Washington Post, Paste Magazine, the Baltimore City Paper, Jazz Times Magazine, the Houston Chronicle, Harp Magazine, the Nashville Scene, Texas Music Magazine, Offbeat and others. His stage musical, "A Baltimore Christmas Carol," premiered in 2004, and his book on Bruce Springsteen, "Born in the U.S.A.," was published in 2005.


 
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