“Careerist” used to be something of a slur in the music industry, but Asheville singer-songwriter Paul Edelman doesn’t shy from the label, nor from the hard work required of anyone who is so inclined. But then labels don’t matter a jot where Edelman is concerned, inasmuch as the Philadelphia native’s artistic credentials are beyond approach.
A songwriting savant also blessed with a strong voice and stellar guitar chops, Edelman rates as a top-notch performer, whether he’s playing a solo acoustic gig or fronting his Americana power trio the Jangling Sparrows.
“I come out of the whole No Depression al-country tradition,” Edelman explains. “That always made the most sense to me, that tradition of American roots rock. I grew up loving songwriters, like Neil Young and Bob Dylan. As a teenager, I was a big fan of Jim Croce. So I took that, and approached the whole alt-country thing with that kind of singer-songwriter mindset.”
Edelman says he moved to Asheville from Pennsylvania some years back, in part due to the city’s robust roots music scene, but also because of its proximity to other like-minded towns. “It’s a good central location, where you’re two to five hours away from several other workable cities,” he says.
Though he’s been performing for well more than a decade now, Edelman still considers himself a work in progress — he’s mastered the fugitive art of assessing without obsessing, taking the measure of his craft, his musicianship, even his relationship with his audience in such a way as to balance principle with pragmatism.
“I ask myself, how do I define myself in the industry, and still have integrity?” he says. “That’s something I’m still learning.
“I had to learn to perform without being a phony. As a pure songwriter, my instinct is to just get on stage and sing the song. Things like stage energy and playing to the crowd weren’t even on my radar. I had to learn the importance of those things, and learn what they looked like for me. I had to learn to go beyond just playing the songs, because you have to make it special for the people watching you. Making that performance special for them, that’s what you’re aiming for.”
Though he currently only has three releases to his name — two with the Jangling Sparrows, and one, “Stranger Things and Truer Words,” as a solo performer — Edelman says he has another Sparrows platter already in the can, plus 50 unreleased songs that will likely be the core of his next four releases or so.
“I’m going to get a publicist to help with this next one,” Edelman says. “I want to keep expanding in a rational, business-savvy type of way.
“I’ve learned that to make a living in this business, you’ve got to be good, but you also have to be out there hustling. The successful ones are the ones who live it. The moment I realized I didn’t have a backup plan, that’s the moment I really started taking this seriously.”
The Jangling Sparrows will play Preservation Pub Thursday, Aug. 31 at 10 p.m.