Memphis legends FreeWorld have been around for over 30 years, been awarded a coveted Brass Note on the Beale Street Walk of Fame in 2012 and cite various influences such as Booker T. & the M.G.’s, John Coltrane, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead, Steely Dan, and The Meters. Even that mix doesn’t really prepare you for the band’s seventh album, What It Is.
I think the age range of the members… from a youthful 20 to a worldly-wise 88, the band can call on so many styles and genres to inform their music and come up with something different and yet totally recognisable. If I had to put a label on their output it would be blues-rock-soul-jazz-fusion…if that confuses, think of a horn-laden Jeff Beck from his late 70s output or if some of the great jam bands of yore had a horn section and sometimes like a lot of the stuff on that 1973 guest strewn, collaborative album, Music From Free Creek.
Opening track, Deeper By The Minute, sounds like a soul-funk band have recruited Buddy Rich as the drumming is simply brilliant and the rest just play around Lundy. Find A Better Way is more rock biased and (minus the horns) could have been on Purple’s Burn as Andy Tate’s guitar solo just makes the comparison even more valid. For a guitar freak like me, Tate is superb throughout this album and this solo is one to savour. Shrimp ‘n’ Grits is a Hammond led instrumental is funky when the horns subtly and powerfully take over the riff, although the brass noodling is a bit of an acquired taste, but the guitar takes it into pure rock…brilliantly. Dinja Babe has a Beatles or ELO feel to the vocals and the track is a more like a pop song from the early 80s. It’s Alright opens with electric piano, gets funky and, when the vocals come in, is all soul. It has a definite Chicago (the band) in feel too and a short but great guitar solo that is pure rock. For The Moment stands out with its great bass line as the song takes us into jazzier territory for a six-minute instrumental which, with synth solos as well as muted trumpet and flanged guitar veers from ELP to Wynton Marsalis. The only cover on the album is The Band composition, The Shape I’m In, and here it takes on a different shape while retaining the essence. Once again Tate does the job so well and even the sax solo fits. Another instrumental next…Sideswiped has an electric piano, sax and that Tate guy again all delivering solos that entertain. Another Sunday Night is funky, bluesy and jazzy with Hammond to the fore; they name check Coltrane and BB King as they spend this particular Sunday night on Beale Street. Next up is the closest to a ballad that these guys do: Believe has guest vocalist
Stephani McCoy joining Cushing and bringing a touch of emotion-drenched soul over a laid-back jazz arrangement with brushed drums contributing to the mood. Final track, Eve waits, is nigh on nine-minute jam session that, after a weird discordant opening, has an Eastern-flavoured drum rhythm before various members of the band ‘wig out’ on fretless bass, synth and sitar…amongst others. It has some remarkable sections but does go on a bit.
This isn’t a blues album by any stretch of the imagination: what it is, however, is a joyous soul-funk-rock-jazz crossbreed that will resonate with many music fans as its curious hybrids always seem to bring a smile to one’s face and get the foot tapping. Listen with an open mind and you will find the reward.
SEVENdoodle paws out of TEN …
- Deeper By The Minute
- Find A Better Way
- Shrimp N’ Grits
- Dinja Babe
- It’s Alright
- For The Moment
- The Shape I’m In
- Another Sunday Night
- Eve Waits
Richard Cushing – Bass Guitar, Lead & Backing Vocals
Dr. Herman Green – Tenor Sax
Pete Climie – Tenor Saxophone, EWI, Backing Vocals
Andy Tate – Guitars, Lead & Backing Vocals
Jared Dover – Trumpet, Trombone, Lead & Backing Vocals
Freedman Steorts – Trombone, Lead & Backing Vocals
Chris Stephenson – Keyboards, Lead & Backing Vocals
Greg Lundy – Drums
David Skypeck – Drums & Lyrics.
Recorded at Ardent Studios in Memphis