In a previous existence, when I was working and traveling the length and breadth of the UK, I found myself in yet another hotel of the sort that, when you wake up you have to think hard where the hell you are. I was bored and wanting a meal that didn’t come off a production line accompanied by wine that didn’t have ‘Sarsons’ on the label, so I took to wandering the streets around the bland hotel looking for sustenance. As I roamed, I heard what had to be live music emanating from a suitable hostelry…I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the place (Duke of something?) but it was 2012! Anyway, it turned out that the act that drew my attention was local blues musician, Clare Free, and I ended up having one of the best nights away from home for a long, long time. I bought the CD, Dust And Bones, and went back to the insipid hotel a whole lot happier. Clare has been busy raising her family and so it is only now that we get the follow up to that fine album, as she releases Where Are You Now? and answers the question with the blues-infused rock I heard back then.
Interestingly (to me anyway) is that local studio, The Barns, allowed free reign “…Every guitar, amp, effect pedal, and instrument you could dream of is there, and I was allowed to use any I chose. I used vintage Telecasters, Stratocasters, and Les Pauls mostly, and some much more ‘off the wall’ guitars too. I was in heaven!” I’d love to know what those ‘off the wall’ guitars were as I’m struggling to recognise them on the CD.
On to the songs and the opening and title track lays down the template…blues-rock with a slight ZZ feel but not really southern: it has a heavier edge than that and develops into a quality song with the added bonus of a solid and skillful band, plus a solo that shows pace, space, and touch. Did The Right Thing is harp led electric blues and, although a familiar pattern, still has a bite that makes it so enjoyable with the harp interjections adding depth. The solo is again carefully paced and doesn’t waste (or add) a single note, even if it is too short for me. Scars is particularly interesting lyrically as Clare justifiably lambasts (not illegitimate sheep! (Sorry!)) the cruelty of some people. Set to a brilliant bluesy riff, the short story is enveloped by the lovely tone of whichever guitar Clare chose…the solo is too short but really effective and suitably stinging. She Can’t Buy is, paradoxically, about spending addiction but this time it has a T. Rex feel to the guitar and sparse backing. The choruses swell with multi-tracked vocals that have an overt commercial feel to it; the solo is worth waiting for though as Clare uses each note to communicate wonderfully.
Thank You does just that too, assuming this is as personal as it sounds, someone special in her life. It’s an acoustic, folky song that is very well structured even it doesn’t ‘do it’ for me, although the tone of the guitar is lovely. Gimme Rock ‘n’ Roll is as it sounds: a 60s base with an up to date reading. The solo is again one of measured class but lamentably short, although the commercialism shows again on the choruses so this likely aimed at airplay. Let Me Down Easy starts a bit Collins era Genesis-y but moves into the sing-a-long chorus with a poppy outbreak that does work but I was left thinking Genesis does Eurovision until an absolutely cracking solo rescued it. Bitch, on the other hand, is back to my kind of quality with a complex riff that matches the lyrics. Then we get the best solo on the album: it has two distinct tones and the notes are spot on…not long enough though! Little Miss Jealousy brings some funk into the blues mix and this reminds me of Erja Lyytinen at times…and that is a huge compliment. No slide, but the solo is still imaginative, fitting and rather good. Nice Girls wraps up the album with a swipe at those misguided folk that believes, “nice girls don’t play in guitar bands”. Well, they do, and they do very well at it too. This is a great rock ‘n’ roll number with pace and a totally apt, clever and well-executed solo…all crammed brilliantly into just over two and a half minutes.
This is a welcome return for a talented lady who hasn’t let the break blunt her skills. Sure, there is more commercial/poppy sounding stuff than I was expecting but this is still a very enjoyable album that only lacks a few more extended solos to satisfy the guitar geek in me. Give it a listen, I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
Bluesdoodles rating: Wonderful – A welcome return of Clare Free’s musical talent
- Where Are You Now?
- Did The Right Thing
- She Can’t Buy
- Thank You
- Gimme Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Let Me Down Easy
- Little Miss Jealousy
- Nice Girls
Clare Free – all guitars and lead vocals
Jamie Kruppa – bass
Dave Jackson – drums
Bob Kidby – Backing vocals, harmonica and percussion
Recorded at The Barn Studios. Suffolk
Produced and mixed by Richard Flack
Engineered and co-produced by Bob Kidby
Mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios
(The iTunes run on track brought me the superb Claude Hay and the title track from his wonderful I Love Hate You album…if you haven’t heard of him, give this one a try, I love it!)