Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Free Tons Of Sobs (1968)

MI0002766617From starling.rinet.ru

This debut album is certainly not the best that Free had to offer us, yet it is already competent and self-assured. Perhaps the biggest ‘technical’ difference of this record from the next ones is that Andy Fraser, the band’s main – but unobservable – creative genius, isn’t yet involved as heavily as he’d be supposed to. He only gets credited as co-writer with Paul Rodgers on two of the songs, while all of the other originals are solely Rodgers-credited. Worse, judging exclusively by this record, it is hard to guess that Fraser is actually a bass virtuoso; he only shines is maybe a couple of places, leaving Rodgers and Kossoff as the main heroes. Thus, a large part of Free’s uniqueness is missing here; Kossoff is a fine player, and he’s actually more brash and energetic here than on almost any other record, but that’s not to say his riffs and solos completely blow me away. He’s just professional and tasteful, that’s all.

Paul Rodgers is another story, though: his powerful vocal deliveries on the album show that he certainly found his voice and learned how to make the best of it way before the band was even formed. Sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, excellently modulated to fit the mood of the song, winding its way cleverly around the various obstacles… just a perfectly flowing voice. He’d be more “screaming” later on, but hasn’t your mother taught you that screaming isn’t everything?

As for the songs… well, what would you expect. These guys play blues-rock; I’m not gonna use oblique suggestions and slant insinuations and say that they offer us ‘a previously unimagined perspective on the most basic elements’ or something like that. This is just solid, self-assured blues-rock. [Haters of blues-rock all over the world now rise in indignation, slam the door behind them and proceed to listen to their Soft Machine and Throbbing Gristle collections out of violent protest.] Now that that’s settled, let me share this information with the rest of music lovers: this is a very good blues-rock album, and if it hadn’t been marred by a thoroughly generic, unnecessary eight-minute ramble (‘Goin’ Down Slow’), I’d have easily given it a nine. Don’t get me wrong – I have nothing against Rodgers and Kossoff hammering it out on a slow eight-minute groove, but slow lengthy blues only works in an ideal way when it’s performed by one of the absolute greats, maybe Eric Clapton on ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’ or ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World’. Okay, gimme ‘Voodoo Chile’ over this at least.

Simply because, you know, they get it so much better on the faster, more compact numbers, that this one just sticks out like a half-sore thumb. Rodgers’ short acoustic ballad ‘Over The Green Hills’ makes a perfect introduction and conclusion for the album, and in between are stuffed all these redhot bluesy deliveries like, say, the majestic ‘Walk In My Shadow’, based on a mighty fine riff and featuring Rodgers at his very very best. Their cover of ‘The Hunter’ is also quite renowned, but my personal favourite is probably ‘Worry’, where everything just comes together: a grumbly fuzzy rhythm track, pretty accompanying piano lines, Kossoff’s usual frenzied guitar tone, and Rodgers’ ominous voice throwing out the lyrics: ‘If it’s the cold black night that’s eating up your heart…’.
Of course, Free’s take on blues-rock was always cocky, from the very beginning – how would we otherwise interpret lyrics like ‘You don’t need your horses baby, you got me to ride, you don’t need your feathers, I’ll keep you warm inside’ in ‘Wild Indian Woman’?

Fortunately, Free’s cockish attitude was never as blatantly obvious and ugly and unrestrained as Led Zeppelin’s, and Rodgers’ gutsy voice more than justifies it. How could we have vintage blues-rock without a hint of sexism if it’s blues-rock we’re talking about? Throw out the sexism and what you get is Renaissance! It’s the amount and proportions of sexism that matter, and in that respect, ‘Wild Indian Woman’ is far less offensive than even ‘All Right Now’.

Apart from ‘Goin’ Down Slow’, the obvious weakness of the record is that it doesn’t offer us that much diversity, of course; apart from all the bluesy originals and covers, and the short snippets of ‘Over The Green Hills’, the only thing that deviates from the formula is the slow dreary ballad ‘Moonshine’, and while it does pave the way to the hypnotic atmospheric masterpieces of Free (like ‘Free Me’ or ‘Mourning Sad Mourning’), it’s not particularly impressive by itself, much as Rodgers strains his voice to keep things interesting.

Still, what do you want from me? These guys have their own style; yes, it’s not yet fully developed, but at least it’s miles ahead of the purist blues approach of the early Fleetwood Mac, for instance. I really hate it when Brit bands were just making carbon copies of their blues influences; but if you try to add some flavour of your own, as in the case of Cream or Taste, for instance, this can easily work. And Free do have plenty of their own flavour. Should we complain? Nice songs, with constant signs of creativity all over them, good arrangements and singin’ – I don’t see why this one shouldn’t deserve at least an objective 10/15. I can’t call it a ‘blistering debut’, but I certainly heard worse debuts.

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May 19, 2013 - Posted by | Free Tons Of Sobs |

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