Ed Romanoff’s 2012 self-titled debut is a gritty masterwork of melancholic and atmospheric Americana. The album evokes the solo work of Mark Knopfler, the swampy mysticism of New Orleans, and the kind of redemption you find at the end of an introspective night with a good bottle of whiskey. “There is something compelling about why I’m doing this now,” Ed says thoughtfully. “There is truth in a good song, and when you pursue it, and write about something real, you find out something real and true about yourself. And the more you do it, the more it helps you heal, and it heals others in a similar way. It’s a crazy circle but it works.”
Ed’s eleven-track debut cuts a wide emotional swath, from the good-natured sorry-I-messed-up sentimentality of “I Must Have Done Something Right” to the brave vulnerability of “St. Vincent De Paul.” Ed wrote the latter when he made a pilgrimage with Americana artist Mary Gauthier to the orphanage where she had been left on the day she was born. They became good friends and Mary asked Ed to join her on the road as sideman, writing partner, and later in taking a DNA test, as she wanted to learn more about her biological past. In taking the test, Ed found out recently the father he grew up with was not his biological father. “Sometimes you write a song and sometimes it writes you back,” he says.
On St. Vincent de Paul Ed sings about the search for his father with weathered sincerity: “If we met on the street/Would I Know His Face?/And would he look into mine/And find there is a trace/Of a woman he loved once/A long time ago/Or would I pass him right by/And not even know it/A basket of rushes in a river of men.”
Ed’s voice is gentle yet haunting, while his guitar playing is economic and steeped in all stripes of Americana, from boozy blues to brothel jazz. The album is produced by Crit Harmon, esteemed for his work with Martin Sexton, Lori McKenna, and Mary Gauthier, and features backup vocals from Josh Ritter, Tift Merritt, Meg Hutchinson, and Mary. Mary and Ed uniquely cover the Harlan Howard song, “I Fall To Pieces,” that Patsy Cline made famous.
This accomplished first album has a moony ambience with elegiac lap steel, saloon violins, and a gentle hum of Wurlitzer organs. Its smoky haze and rustic production are delicately grounded by the grit and earthiness of Ed’s voice. 9 songs from this debut record have been recognized in international songwriting competitions prior to its release, including “Breakfast for One on the Fifth of July,” written with Mary Gauthier, which won for best lyrics at the 2011 International Songwriting Competition and the 2011 USA Songwriting Competition. It may have taken Ed a little over two years and two generations to write his album, but he’s perfectly on time. After all, they say it takes a lifetime to write your first record.