Protometal Report - Free - Free

They warned you, right from the opening groove, If you're trying to screw me baby/take my advice/opportunity baby/never strikes twice and with that groove and Kossoff's guitar and Rodger's voice you knew that Free had aimed straight at your guts and your crotch. Like the 18 year old nude model striding the sky on the cover, Free brings the sex on their second album. "I'll Be Creeping'" opens with Kossoff's guitar flanged, and then Kirke's drums come in but it is Fraser's bass that adds the menace to Rodger's threats. Separated from the mix, Fraser's bass pulses over the entire affair, only to be replaced by the soft backing moans of the band over the chorus: I hold you in my heart/like nobody else/but when I know we're apart/I won't take no less.

If the first track holds the menace, the second brings the hammer – with some staggering vocal/guitar response work from Rodgers and Kossoff. Kirke and Fraser kick it off, uptempo, Fraser again not only taking the rhythm but adding subtle melodic flourishes as Kossoff starts to warm up on the side. "Songs of Yesterday" in the studio hints at simply how incendiary the band was onstage. With almost no overdubs, they could bring the heat on cue. Paul Kossoff was as good for his restraint as much as for what he could play, and here he builds his Les Paul with chords and small bits so that when he finally breaks loose with a furious solo it smacks you in face.

Two of the quiet numbers make the rockers that much more meaningful. "Mouthful of Grass" is a beautiful quiet number with a delicate shimmering guitar solo by Kossoff. Delicate fingerpicking by Rodgers starts it off, the reverb off of the strings, the palpable touch of the fingers on the guitar make the whole recording glow. Lacking the hermetically sealing recording approach, we are treated to the very warmth of the performance. The group's background "Ahhs" may seem a bit dated now, don't overwhelm to beauty of the piece. "Lying in the Sunshine" is a haunting number, held together by Fraser's mobile bass, again doing a tremendous amount of work, all in service of the song.

Free’s been given the Deluxe Remastered treatment on their third album, Fire and Water, but it is here in their second, simply titled Free, that the seeds are planted for the breakout single "All Right Now". Many times, it is the record before the classic album, before the one that your kid sister suddenly is walking around the house singing, that is far more interesting. Something about the musicians gathering steam as they roll downhill through a treacherous rock n roll forest. Revolver before Sgt. Pepper, Obscured by Clouds before Dark Side of the Moon.

"Woman" finds Kirke in the same groove as "I'll be Creeping." I've got a burning heart/ I need to tell you that its you I love Rodgers sings, and I'll never get enough/get enough and you know he means it. The band stays tight in the pocket, Kirke riding backbeat, Kossoff's subtle guitar tone carrying the rhythm in both speakers til he rips off a great 8 bar solo.

"Trouble on Double Time" is pure bar bravado, pure cock in groove, riding Kirke’s swinging backbeat, Rodgers is singing about being a bad bad boy, and we don’t care that he’s riffing off of Muddy Waters and whole host of other blues albums that have been smuggled up to the north of England for a couple pounds. Kossoff’s Les Paul is sharp and his vibrato singing as they sell the song well beyond its roots. For all their hit making, Bad Company simply never swung quite like Free. By the mid ‘70’s, Kirke and Rodgers were still in their prime, but the difference is Andy Fraser’s bass, leaving interesting gaps and playing along, up front in the mix, making the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Like many of the great bassists, the average listener doesn’t hear their contribution, they just know that the song is simply more interesting.

"Broad Daylight" is a bare bones number at a languid pace allowing Rodgers to dig a little into his soul leanings, trying to channel some Sam Cooke across the Atlantic. He almost pulls it off in places too. Paul Kossoff makes great use of his eight bars in the middle. Kirke’s drumming is, perhaps a little stiff for him, for the first time in the album.

The closer to the original album, "Morning Sad Mouring," is Rodgers tearing out his soul and laying it out for all to see. The quiet anguish mirrors the best of Van Morrison’s cries on "Moondance," Kossoff’s delicate playing laying the foundation for a flute that shares nothing with Jethro Tull. I dare anyone with a pair of headphones and a spliff not to be moved as they moving into the final chorus.

The band had been living off of road, and for not a lot of money, but there is something more here. Recorded in 1969, did they get the essential failure of the flower generation to change the world they way that they had wished? It is impossible to listen to the melancholy and anguish in the slower numbers of Free today without putting out perspective on them.

And that is, of course, the great part of this. Great music stands the test of time, allowing us to get different things out of it. Great bands as well. There are so many bands that come out with a label already tattooed on their forehead: "we're a rock band", "we're a thrash death metal queercore exclusive", "we're an easy listening lounge act with ironic detachment." Free was a band that played music. Period.

- the fearless rock iguana

Buy here: Free


Anonymous said…
Oooh, I love Free! Nice review of such a great record. I've recently discovered the joys of Paul Kossoff's solo record "Back Street Crawler."
thanks woody. I've been meaning to pick up Back Street Crawler for some time now. I may have to get on that this week.

- iguana
Anonymous said…
This one is not actually one of my faves, kind of the ugly red-headed stepsister between Sobs and Fire and Water. I love "Songs of Yesterday" but that's about it. What I always loved about Free was Kossoff's understated sense of playing, but this is an understated record, which isn't my cup of tea.
Anonymous said…
The song "Tuesday Morning" will blow your mind. It's a 17 minute instrumental jam that was done live in 1 take with no overdubs. Have a hanky nearby because you will weep tons of sobs.