On the aptly titled “Who’s That Man?” Ed Randazzo shares a decade’s worth of earthy and emotive performances. The 13-song collection, drawn from his three albums with musical partner Bret Alexander, also includes two new tracks and will be released Jan. 11.
Asked if he was able to detect a progression in his work while he was putting together “Who’s That Man?” Randazzo answers, “Well, sure.”
“I think firstly it is important to hear that progress,” he continues. “If you’re not progressing at any job, what’s the sense of doing it? That was really cool; you go back to the first recordings, and they’re great, but you do hear my voice get deeper, my inflection changed, I was more confident.”
The first single, one of two newly written songs on the record, “Soldier, Soldier,” was released in September. You can hear the previously unreleased 12-inch mix of “Devil’s Trail” below, and the next proper single will be “Ring Them Bells,” which Randazzo says will be released with live tracks from the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, Pa. “This will happen in March ahead of the April release of the vinyl edition of Collected Songs,” he adds. “Hoping this is ready to coincide with Record Store Day!”
“We had been covering that song in our setlist for quite some time,” he says of the traditional “Soldier, Soldier.” “When you’re an avid music listener, when an artist releases a collection like this there’s usually two or three new things, so I think I’m obligated to include new songs. I thought ‘Soldier, Soldier’ was such a no-brainer because it’s such a fun song in our live set, so I thought let’s put this down, and additionally it’s basically paying respect to one of my biggest influences, Natalie Merchant.”
Merchant included her version on her 2003 album “The House Carpenter’s Daughter,” a collection of folk covers.
“It’s a cool way that music gets moved down,” says Randazzo, who grew up in West Pittston and lives in Erie. “It was passed down to her, and it made it to me, and I covered it, and maybe someone will hear my version and maybe go back to Natalie Merchant’s version and even record their own version.”
While Randazzo has been classified as a bluesman — he’s a frequent performer at Briggs Farm Blues Festival in Nescopeck, Pa. — he came to the genre a bit late.
“I grew up gravitating first toward female singer-songwriters, Lilith Fair, that kind of vibe,” says Randazzo, 40. “But growing up in the house there was a lot of R&B that was played, so I think just stylistically it was really natural that when I was introduced to the blues — and I don’t even remember when that was — I know when it happened I was just like, ‘Wow, how special this genre is.’
“The thing is, I never really categorized myself as a blues musician; I think Northeastern Pa. put me there, and I think it’s a privilege to be put there, and I’m very aware that blues music is very much a religion, and I would go on record and say I am in no way a straight-blues musician, and I think you can agree I touch on all kinds of different genres, but I’m very flattered by it.”
His next performance will be a Destination Blues show with Dustin Douglas at A Perfect Blend (135 W. Front St., Berwick) on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 7 p.m.
Two of the songs on “Who’s That Man?” feature Alexis P. Suter, the powerhouse vocalist who is a fixture on the blues festival circuit and known for her performances with the late Levon Helm. Randazzo says he was looking for a female voice “to be my conscience, to talk back to me and push me forward” on the track “Who’s That Man?” He called Pennsylvania-based photographer Jim Gavenus, who documents the civil rights movement, and asked for “three big names that are connected to the civil rights movement.”
“So he gave me Alexis’ name and two other singer-songwriters and I didn’t even get to the other two,” Randazzo says. “I heard Alexis’ voice and I was knocked over and I called Jim and said, ‘How do we get this to happen?'”
A few phone calls later, and Suter was singing on the track at Bret Alexander’s Saturation Acres studio while she and her band were in the area to perform at Briggs. She also lent her vocals to the song “Still Cry.”
Of Alexander, a founding member of The Badlees and a long-time producer, Randazzo says: “Well, 10 years later and he’s still putting up with me and the things that I like to do.
“The thing about working with Bret is he is a producer who tries to engage and ignite what’s already there, and that’s what I really appreciate about him as a producer. He doesn’t try to put his stamp on your work. He just tries to say let’s edit this and let’s get this to be as great as it can be. … I’m sure others have the same thoughts [about working with Alexander]. It’s just so easy, and that’s not to say there’s never any hiccups, there always is when you’re doing something like this. The thing about this, especially 10 years later, any idea that I’ve ever had, he’s never said a full-on no.”
Lead photo by Amanda Hrycyna