Goin' down slow....
Released on 14 March 1969
Recorded at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London
Running time 38.55
In 1968, The Beatles were singing about Rocky Raccoon and the contents of a box of chocolates. The Beach Boys were blathering on about vegetables and wind chimes outside their window. Time then for four young lads from Northern England to grow their hair, put on their tight flared denims and strut around to the sound of pure bass, guitar and drum enhanced by one of the best blues rock voices you ever heard...
Free were, along with Led Zeppelin, of course, a breath of rocking fresh air. They didn't ever change much in style, however, giving us four years of honest, four-piece blues-soaked rock - bass, guitar, drums and occasional keyboards. They didn't really experiment with psychedelia, "concept" albums, have a "soul phase", put out a disco album or one of fifties easy listening covers. They just did what they knew best - played and sang top-notch blues rock.
This was their stunningly precocious debut album, released in early 1969. It is worth noting that none of the band were yet to reach the age of twenty at this point. Indeed, bassist Andy Fraser was only sixteen. Singer Paul Rodgers sounded like a whiskey-sodden man of thirty. It really is a remarkable achievement, and it was done so on a cheap budget too, intentionally so by maverick producer Guy Stevens (of Mott The Hoople and later The Clash fame). He wanted to produce a raw, proper blues sound and he duly did just that - it is by far Free's purest blues album of their six studio offerings.
1. Over The Green Hills (Part 1)
3. Walk In My Shadow
4. Wild Indian Woman
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. I'm A Mover
7. The Hunter
9. Sweet Tooth
10. Over The Green Hills (Part 2)
Over The Green Hills (Part 1) is a strange opener, being a short, mystical acoustic air that soon fades into the robust blues rock of Worry, which lays down the style and standards that Free would adhere to for the next four years of their career. It showcases the searing lead guitar, pounding drums, throbbing bass and gritty bluesy vocals that the band would become known for. Walk In My Shadow is a similarly chugging, convincingly powerful piece of rock.
"She was a wild Indian woman and she drove me wild..." sings Paul Rodgers on the amusingly unreconstructed Wild Indian Woman - he would never have got away with that sort of thing now. Musically, it is a slightly more upbeat, bassy and catchy rocker. I can't help but like it. "You don't need your horses baby, you got me to ride....". Yes, well. Dig those leery lyrics, man.
Goin' Down Slow is beautifully bluesy. They took the sort of of thing Cream and Eric Clapton had been doing and gave it their own heavier makeover, full of big, deep bass and Rodgers' charismatic, super strong vocals. It is, at over eight minutes, the longest cut on the album, but it never gets tiresome. It was a cover of an old blues song by St. Louis Jimmy Oden. The massive, chunky riffs of I'm A Mover back one of the first Free classics. This is a supremely heavy number, just check that power.
The band's cover of Albert King's The Hunter is the most upbeat track on the album and the most "rock". It also has some dodgy lyrics about being in the sight of his "love gun" and so on. It all sounds harmlessly amusing, I have to say.
The tempo slows down again on the evocative, atmospheric Moonshine, featuring a great bass line from Fraser and an astonishingly mature vocal from Rodgers. Man, the deep sound on this just makes your speakers shake. Great stuff.
Sweet Tooth features some buzzy, appealing riffage and is probably the only vaguely late sixties-sounding number, with a few slight psychedelic hints, only slight though, the ambience is still blues overall.
Over The Green Hills (Part 2) expands a little more on the folky opener, but only just. They are a strange couple of bookends and are at odds, in a way, with the rest of the album's material.
Anyway, this was certainly a most impressive debut album from Free and remains one of my favourites of theirs. I know it has been given critical praise over the years, but it should have had more, in my opinion.
The bonus tracks included on the 2002 remaster that do not appear on the album in another format are:-
Guy Stevens Blues
This is a massive, thumping piece of earthy blues rock instrumental. It features some excellent organ breaks in it as well as the customary deep bass and drums.
Visions Of Hell
This is a pleasant slow burning blues. It is one of Free's most laid-back numbers, initially, but it breaks out half way through into some fast paced rocking before suddenly reverting to the slower pace. It ends as a strong bit of typical Free rock.
Woman By The Sea
A mournful-sounding backing vocal accompanies a throbbing single note bass line for a while before a really good rhythm kicks in and we get a pretty good song. There is a nice bit of bass doodling half way through. Impressive guitar at the end too. Good stuff. It suddenly ends, though, as "demo" style tracks often do.
*I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters, but I feel the pure blues depth and power is possibly better served on the 2002 remasters. Only just, though, the 2016 one is still pretty good. To be honest, there is not much difference.