Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Free - Highway (1970)

Ride a pony....

  

Released in December 1970

Running time 36.58

This was recorded in the late summer/early Autumn of 1970 after Free's successful performance at the Isle Of Wight Festival in late August. It is an album of relaxed ambience on the whole, more low-key than the bluesy hard rock of its three predecessors. Like Mott the Hoople did on "Wildlife", Free tried to dabble a little in country rock and a general feeling of mellow, bucolic looseness. However, don't despair, hard rocking Free fans, because even the supposed "romantic" numbers are supremely robust and brawny. Free didn't do gentle, they never had. It has always been my least favourite of the six Free studio albums, yet each time I listen to it I find my affection for it grows.

It was far less successful than its predecessor, "Fire and Water", however, and it was said that the album's commercial failure and the death of Jimi Hendrix during the recording sessions contributed to guitarist Paul Kossoff's descent into drug addiction that would see the band temporarily splitting up in 1971.

TRACK LISTING

1. The Highway Song
2. The Stealer
3. On My Way
4. Be My Friend
5. Sunny Day
6. Ride On A Pony
7. Love You So
8. Bodie
9. Soon I Will Be Gone                         

"The Highway Song" is an appealing, rhythmic bluesy whisky-swilling number with a slightly tinny intro that deepens in resonance as it progresses. Its lyrics, concerning a "farmer's daughter" seem very typical of rock at the time. Free liked a bit of this sort of rusticity, as did Thin Lizzy and Deep Purple. Back to the music, there is some attractive piano bits on here and some classy lead guitar. "The Stealer" has a big, chunky, piledriving riff and is a solid, muscular piece of strutting Free blues rock, the sort we had come to expect. When the guitar crashes in after a minute and a half or so you think "laid back? Are you sure about that?". Listen to that massive bass too.

"On My Way" is a laid-back number but is still in possession of a sublime bass line and the now ubiquitous excellent Paul Rodgers vocal. There are vague hints of country rock to it, but it still retains some typical Free power. The same applies to the ballad, "Be My Friend", which, although a slow and reflective number, still carries a huge, bassy thump to its backing. Both these tracks could be described as being comparatively laid-back, yet, Free being Free and Rodgers being Rodgers, they are still blessed with immense strength.


"Sunny Day" is as close to a peaceful song as Free were going to get. It is slow and melodic, but once more very potent. Whatever Free did dripped in testosterone. That is brought right up to the fore again on the infectious staccato rock of "Ride On A Pony". The chorus has some great riffage to it and Rodgers' vocal is irresistible. There are definitely some gems to be found on this album.

"Love You So" is another relatively solemn ballad as also is the tuneful, slightly folky "Bodie", the lightest number on the album. As with the others, though, it retains its torque, especially at the end. "Soon I Will Be Gone" has echoes of the slower material to be found on the band's first two albums. It features some heavy guitar interjections in it as well. Overall, this album could probably do with a few more upbeat numbers, and the non-album single, the jaunty blues of "My Brother Jake" would have been a suitable candidate. The other bonus track "Only My Soul" is a melodic and appealing number. "Rain" is a surprisingly laid-back, gentle number too, with a bit of a country rock feel to it.

*

As with the other Free albums, I have both the 2002 and 2016 remasters. In this case I prefer the 2002 ones for their heightened bassiness and overall resonance. It suits this album better, for me, anyway.

B-

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