Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Free - Free At Last (1972)

A little bit of love....

  

Released in June 1972

Running time 36.38

By April 1971, blues rockers Free had released four excellent studio albums and one live album in a little over two years. Then, unfortunately, tensions between singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser spilled over and they fell out, big time. The group split up for the rest of the year, Rodgers and Fraser went off to undertake comparatively unsuccessful solo projects, before the band made up and started recording again, which resulted in this album.

They seemed to make a conscious effort to record smoothly again, mainly for the sake of ailing guitarist Paul Kossoff, whose drug dependency was increasing rapidly. However, this album is thought by a fair few to be the group's worst offering, containing, for them, few real rockers in the "All Right Now" style. Let's be honest, though, Free's music was never about breakneck rockers, was it? It was always a slow-paced, stately, solid blues rock. For me, this was not a bad album at all, indeed, I much prefer it to "Highway".

Things were not to last, however. Kossoff was unable to complete a chaotic tour and a disillusioned Fraser left the band for good. Japanese bassist Tetsu Yamauchi was drafted in, along with American keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and another album was released, 1973's "Heartbreaker", which proved to be Free's last. The title of this album would seem to signify a coming to an end here, though, as did the final track. It was the last album from the original foursome.

TRACK LISTING

1. Catch A Train
2. Soldier Boy
3. Magic Ship
4. Sail On
5. Travellin' Man
6. Little Bit Of Love
7. Guardian Of The Universe
8. Child
9. Goodbye                                                   

"Catch A Train" is a pretty impressive piece of Free rock to open with. Yes, its pace is slow-ish but it packs one hell of a punch, and features some searing guitar and a sumptuous, rubbery bass line. Rodgers' vocal, it goes without saying is right up there. I would put it on any "best of Free" playlist. "Soldier Boy" is an atmospheric, comparatively low-key number that ends possibly before it should. Its instrumentation is impressive and showed that Free could do the subtle passages when necessary.

"Magic Ship" has a beautifully deep, warm bass underpinning it and Rodgers' vocal complements the slow dignity of the track superbly. Kossoff's lead guitar is seriously good as well. The guitar/drum/piano interplay towards the end is excellent. Free were pretty unique in producing this sort of stuff. They really were special. "Sail On" continues the quality. After a quiet vocal and piano intro that old Free power kicks in. It is heavy, bluesy rock of the highest order. The rock power of Deep Purple and the blues of Led Zeppelin merge here in places with Free's undoubted individual talents to give them their own unique sound. Up next are two proper Free classics - the blues rock nirvana of the majestic "Travellin' Man" and the catchy "Little Bit Of Love", propelled along by a most melodious and infectious bass line. With tracks like these two in it, this could never be a disappointing album, could it? This is top notch fare.

"Guardian Of The Universe" is powerful enough in its rock ballad way, but is probably a minute too long. While it has some convincing moments, it has a bit of an air of studio demo about it for me. "Child" is an understated slow number with a great Rodgers vocal and Fraser's bass once again without compare. The anthemic "Goodbye" would appear to be a melancholy farewell from the band - "we've come to the end of our road together..." sings Rodgers, prophetically. As this was the final offering from the original foursome that formed one of the UK's best-ever blues rock bands, the words were apt.

Bonus tracks on the 2002 edition include "Molten Gold (Burnin')" which is a steadily cooking piece of archetypal Free blues and a bluesy cover of The Rolling Stones' "Honky Tonk Women".

Give this album a little bit of love. It more than deserves it.

*

Regarding the sound, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters and enjoy both of them. The 2002 is fuller and bassier, but the 2016 remaster is possibly the more rounded overall.

B

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