Monday, 4 June 2018

Free - Free (1969)

Trouble on double time....

  

Released October 1969

Recorded at Trident Studios, London

Running time 35.56

Following on from the full-on blues of their Guy Stevens-produced debut from March 1969 this second album from Free arrived in October of 1969 and was produced by Island Records' Chris Blackwell. The group developed their sound somewhat, using Andy Fraser's bass a lot more pro-actively, almost like a rhythm guitar, to drive the sound along, rather than just backing it. It merged pure blues with a heavy rock sound a bit more than on the straight-ahead blues of the debut. That album had two old blues covers on it too, this one featured all band originals.

The tensions that were to blight the band over subsequent years started to develop as lead guitarist Paul Kossoff was said to have resented Fraser's sound seemingly usurping his. It must be remembered that the band were either not yet in their twenties, or barely there. That considered, the sound is remarkably mature.

The album was not a commercial success, however, that would come in the following year with the release of Fire And Water and a successful performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival. This was a shame because this was a good album and deserves to be remembered as such.

TRACK LISTING

1. I'll Be Creepin'

2. Songs Of Yesterday
3. Lying In The Sunshine
4. Trouble On Double Time
5. Mouthful Of Grass
6. Woman
7. Free Me
8. Broad Daylight
9. Mourning Sad Morning

I'll Be Creeping is a lively opener, introducing that melodious, commanding bass and serving to exemplify Free's unique brand of blues rock. I can say it over and over again, but the power on so many of these Free recordings is mightily impressive. Kossoff had no reason to complain about his contribution here, either, his guitar solo is superb. Fraser's bass is even better on Songs Of Yesterday, and it is here that you can hear just how it was used to control the song. It is deep, rubbery but deliciously tuneful as well. It is on material like this that Free showed how unique and special they were, nobody else really played blues rock quite like this. Check out that rhythmically quirky drum beat too. 

Lying In The Sunshine is a peaceful but sonorous slow ballad once more pushed along by the bass and Paul Rodgers' vocal taking on a more wistful quality than his usual gruff growl. Trouble On Double Time sees that bluesy voice return on a chunky, staccato number. The beat is slightly funky in places, in its backbeat. Once more, Kossoff's lead guitar solo is a killer, as indeed it is on the semi-instrumental Mouthful Of Grass (it contains just a few backing vocals). It has a sort of Fleetwood Mac Albatross vibe to it, or The Beatles' Sun King in places. 

Woman is a prototype for what would become standard Free fare over the next few years - pounding drums and bass and an impassioned Rodgers vocal proclaiming love for his woman. 

The bass line on the slow burning Free Me is so deep my speakers can only just cope with it. The song contains an excellent, laid-back guitar solo but it is probably a little ponderous for a little too long. 

Broad Daylight is sort of in the same vein, but more rocky, cohesive and powerful. Mourning Sad Morning is an almost folky, plaintive lament, featuring some flute, unusually, played by Traffic's Chris Wood. It was a strangely low-key ending to what had been an energetic and stirring album. 


*

The non-album tracks issued with the 2002 remaster and that do not feature on the main album in another format are:-

The Worm

This robust bluesy number was the 'b' side of the I'll Be Creepin' single. It has a big, deep bass line, some sharp guitar interjections and a strong Rodgers vocal. There is a bit of a funky keyboard backing it as well in places.

Sugar For Mr. Morrison

This is a rhythmically bassy bit of instrumental fun, with a bit of bar-room piano tinkling around. Inconsequential but enjoyable. There is a searing guitar solo in it from Kossoff. 

*

Regarding the sound quality, the album was re-issued in excellent remastered fashion several years back (in 2002) with the addition of several bonus tracks. The remastering was big, powerful, bassy and enough to shake your walls and blow your speakers. Nothing wrong with it. This current remastered edition (2016) has no bonus tracks which is a shame and, to be honest, it has taken me a while to get into the new slightly different sound. A bit like the 2012 Roxy Music remasters, the volume is a bit less, the power a little bit less, bringing a bit more subtlety to the mix. I am told it is called "letting the music breathe". Do Free need "subtlety" I ask myself? I have given these new editions several listens and have to say I like them. To me, both remasterings have their place. Nevertheless, that massive bass punch on the 2002s wins the day, just.

B+

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