Eden & John’s East River String Band mines the rich history of traditional American blues, country, and popular music from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to provide their own brand of old-time music.
Founded by the wife-and-husband duo of Eden Brower and John Heneghan in 2005, the band has grown to include legendary illustrator Robert Crumb and Brotherhood of the Jug leader Ernesto Gomez. Coney Island Baby, their 2019 release, features occasional contributions from renowned NYC old-time musicians Pat Conte, Eli Smith, Jackson Lynch, Geoff Wiley, and Walker Shepard, who are described as “The Sometimes They Show Up If They Feel Like It Players.”
Brower’s soulful rasp and Heneghan’s steady baritone perfectly fit the 17 songs featured on the album, a repertoire likely culled from Heneghan’s massive collection of 78 rpm records. In addition to vocals, Brower also adds ukulele or guitar accompaniment, while Heneghan plays guitar throughout. Crumb adds banjo, mandolin, and ukulele, while Gomez contributes harmonica. The other musicians add guitar, banjo, fiddle, and bass as needed.
Standouts on the album include Geeshie Wiley’s “Skinny Leg Blues,” the raunchy-sounding “Twelve Pound Daddy,” Billie Holiday’s “He’s Funny That Way,” the soulful “Do It Right” and the blues standard “Poor Boy, Long Ways from Home.” The pacing of the tracklist flows well between uptempo stompers and slow bawlers.
The CD is packaged in a trifold digipak, featuring exquisite cover art by Crumb and photos of the band performing live and in studio. The album is also available on LP.
Songs sometimes seem to be an overlooked segment in today’s old-time music circles. On Coney Island Baby, Eden & John’s East River String Band takes the listener on a thrilling ride through the early American songbook. The musicianship is expert, but a bit rough around the edges. The album is well worth your time. Keep an eye out for the band’s 2022 release, Good-Bye Cruel World.