Thursday, March 12, 2015

Free – Tons of Sobs

There was a time when bands made it through hard work, going out and playing in a club every night, writing songs and practicing constantly.  They learned their trade and they got very good at it fairly quickly.  Bands that got a recording contract earned it, they didn't go on TV and win a popularity contest.  This time was called the 60's and 70's.

Free came along right at the end of the 60's, and they certainly worked hard.  “Tons of Sobs” is their first album, released in 1969, when all of the band members were still teenagers.  Andy Fraser, the bass player, was only 16.  When you listen to this album, though, you would not guess the tender age of these guys.  They must have been fully formed song writers and musicians from a very young age.  They play with a confidence and swagger that you just can't deny.

I have always felt that Free is maybe the most under rated of the British blues rock bands.  Artists like Tony Reed and Joe Bonamassa cite them as huge influences on what they do.  They seem to be a musician's band, because the general public only seems to know “All Right Now” but nothing else about the band.

They are often referred to as a blues rock band, although this particular album is the only one in their catalog that truly fits that definition.  It truly is of its time, as you can listen to other bands in the genre and from this time period and you can hear some similarities in the playing and writing.  But it is also a timeless album just brimming with the potential of this band.  As I listen to it and write this down, the album was released 46 years ago, yet it doesn't sound dated in the least.  Like many albums of its era, it was recorded on a shoe string budget, so it sounds a little raw, but that just plays into the overall feel.

There is some really great stuff here.  When you listen to this album you can hear a band that is very comfortable with who they are.  They know what they are capable of, and they bring it.  There isn't a lot here that hints at what they were to become, but these are very solid songs, and some of them are great songs that are still covered today.  One of my favorites is the great blues work out “Goin' Down Slow”.  It's a cover, but they do what all great bands do and make it their own.  Paul Kossoff's blues playing is fantastic and he takes the listener on an emotional journey with his lead work.  He knew from an early age that it's not about how many notes you play, it's how you use those notes to evoke a feeling.

“Walk In My Shadow” and “I'm A Mover” don't break any new ground, but they are just great songs, well written and well played.  They are perfect examples of some rollicking good blues rock as it was played at the turn of a decade, when rock music was really starting to come into its own and bands were beginning to realize just where it could go.  And then there is “Moonshine”, which is still a bluesy number but is the one track here that hints at where the band could be headed.  Fantastic song that shows a band that can slow things down and is not afraid to explore other sides of music.  When you listen to their 2nd album you hear almost no trace of blues rock at all and this particular track led the way for that.

If you dig British rock from the 60's and 70's and you've never given Free a chance, you are certainly not alone.  It's never too late to learn something new, though, and open yourself up to some great music.  In my not so humble opinion, you can't go wrong with anything in their catalog and they are one of my favorite bands of all time.  If you're going to check them out, you might as well start here, at the beginning, and be prepared for an album that will not leave your music player of choice for a while.


1 comment:

Fastnbulbous said...

Great album but let's be real here, bands today still put in the work. It's not bands that are getting famous on reality TV shows, it's vocalists, who, like many from before the 60s, rarely are songwriters or musicians.

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