Ed Windas is a self-described sponge. Not in the way that many of our friends are when it comes to picking up their share of a bar tab, but in a good way of absorbing as much life knowledge as he possibly can.
Windas got his start as a fledgling rapper. Heavily influenced by the Wu-Tang Clan, Ed proceeded to delve into satirical rap humor under the witty guise of EdTang. Ed describes this continued moniker on his website: “I noticed that if I flipped the iconic Wu ‘W’ a quarter-turn clockwise, it made the perfect ‘E’ for my fresh new white-kid rap cassette. While I’m happy to say (and with perhaps a naive amount of confidence) that the lion share of those original EdTang tapes have long since perished, the name EdTang never would.”
So while the artist has progressed to different styles and musical colors, the name remains the same on his latest project, Goodbye, Zen5, Sushi Dinner. When I first read the title of the disc, I had no idea what the odd little statement meant. Going to an included letter brought it all into focus through an influential quote from Brazilian lyricist and novelist Paulo Coelho. “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their destiny is. At that point in their lives, everything is clear and everything is possible. They are not afraid to dream, and to yearn for everything they would like to see happen to them in their lives. But, as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince them that it will be impossible for them to realize their destiny.”
But what’s missing is the second part of this quote where it shows that this is actually the way to motivate you to understand the clues of a predetermined destiny in our universal space. I know, I’m so deep. So to put that in layman’s terms, as an artist, stay on track, keep moving, and believe all you can for what it is that you do.
And Ed has put his “all” into following this rule. “I became obsessed with the concepts of life and purpose, and how in the final scene, some actors still use the word ‘regret.’ I became obsessed with not being one of them.”
Goodbye, Zen5, Sushi Dinner is an apt pupil when it comes to these guidelines. Beckoning the listener in a simple, extended family way, Ed and friends have crafted a dignified statement on these nine organic tunes of journeys past, present, and future.
Produced by EdTang and longtime Shoreworld friend Rob Blake (Black Clouds), the pair employed musicians such as Jared Beckerman on keys, Jay Crafferty, who lends truck stop panache with his highway bending pedal steel, Chris Donofrio (Last Perfect Thing), Geoffrey Myers on guitar, the mighty Mike Smith on bass, and a trio of top-shelf vocalists in the form of Andrea Scanniello, Juliane Suozzo, and Kelsey Windas.
Ed kick-starts his disc with the Texican American plains feel of “Vaya.” This bouncy, resonator-driven number bristles with dusty imagery of the love, tragedy, and the quick, open chances of a life moving forward. As Ed says, “Lucky men might get one shot, they’ll roll the dice and give it all they got, but most play it safe and say it went so fast.” Backing vocals and understated drums and bass sound like they were lifted out of a Levon Helm house party. Maybe you can’t go back when it comes to life, but I probably went back and played this superb opener eight or nine times.
The minor structure of “Crow Till We Croak” reminds me of something Bob Stinson of The Replacements would have gone for. With its easy tempo and over-emphasized country swing, EdTang croons his dark and sparkly ode to being burned by the past and the consequences therein. “Now it’s Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and 18-wheeler trucks, borrowed books, and a stolen rosary. Cigarettes and your running shoes, no place to be with nothing to lose, we were growing up, now we’re getting old.” Guitar work moves between whammy bar warbled slide runs as acoustic guitars tumble into minor keyed, canonized ditches of glimmering, bright riff work. Ed uses a good understanding of vocal dynamics here as on most of the disc, getting his point across in simple, short bursts of melodic statement that stays with the listener like a Hemingway sentence.
“Lincoln” kicks out with its Americana four-on-the-floor rebellion. Recollections of Creedence Clearwater Revival clash head long into the rock and roll rawness of Three Dog Night as the chorus pulls you in with its memorable, “This whole wide world is yours to change” sing-along. Gritty middle-eight guitar work of Geoffrey Myers is effortless and effective, fading under the final chorus as the background ensemble shouts out the story of baby Abe.
“Recharged” is a rolling, sunny day drive that detours through Mumford & Sons/Steve Forbert territory. Not a terrible song, “Recharged” just feels dynamically flatlined. I liked the transition from minor keyed intro into major chord focus, and EdTang’s vocal tone mixes well with the bouncy pedal work of Crafferty, a combination that manages to keep this song on the road to continuity.
“My Whole Life” puts Ed straight back on the road to rock and roll redemption with its solid rhythm shots and introspective guitar work. Melodic verses and gargantuan choruses stand out as showers of piano chord brilliance courtesy of Jared Beckerman cover the framework. Guitars pan the spectrum, slashing and breaking up in tube-powered blitzkriegs as multicolored choruses carry this strong song into the infectious, hit record world of anything Soul Asylum or the Foo Fighters could ever hope to attain. This is a superbly written and arranged piece, and one of my favorite songs on the disc.
Andrea Scanniello is the feature for my third favorite tune on the CD. “Pualei” opens with the harmonic duo of guitar and piano, rolled out in their unionized melody like a royal red carpet for Andrea to waltz in on. Scanniello’s ethereal voice sits well on the top of instrumentation, and the gritty vocal signature of Ed keeps juxtaposing pace. Shrouded in reverb and perfect background positioning, EdTang and Company utilize spatial dynamics for all they’re worth on “Pualei.”
I love how the band starts and stops, surging in for bridges and choruses then fading, leaving a lone, dark electric guitar to accompany the vocalists. When the rest of the band comes in, it gives it a regal, almost Civil War-era feel. Marching drums and harmonicas blare into what I believe to be finger picked banjo or Dobro riffs. Dramatically effective and memorable to boot, “Pualei” brands the listener with visions of two people in the beautiful moment while dwelling on the realization that the future will inevitably change all of this.
The disc ends with two more strong songs in the form of “Just Two Old Friends” and tongue-in-cheek “Bill, I Believe This Is Killing Me.”
I have to admit, when I first read Ed’s bio, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought he would be some new version of Slim Shady. But what I’ve discovered after listening to Goodbye, Zen5, Sushi Dinner is an insightful artist filled with the experiences of impressive living, and a troubadour that knows how to get that passion onto a record. There are probably 10 CDs a year that stay with me for the duration, and this is one of those.
You can catch EdTang on April 21 at Lazlo’s Guitar Pull over on Blow Up Radio (blowupradio.com). For more information on EdTang, head over to edtangmusic.com.