This may be one of the most upbeat albums I have ever reviewed, and certainly one of the least pretentious. Hailing from the hill country of east Texas, these mainly veteran musicians are their own sort of jam band, and they don’t take each other too, too seriously.
While they fit neatly into the bluegrass/alt country/Americana category – and how can they not be in the latter with their rather unique rendition of the Star Spangled Banner that employs musical breaks from America The Beautiful – Free Willy has an unusual way of developing their music that they describe thus:
W. B. Jones had a vision to create what he calls the “Free Willy Sound” which involves the lead instruments playing “over top of each other” on the breaks, rather than having the instruments “take turns”, and to inject lead breaks throughout the songs, including during the vocal parts.
As far as songwriting and arrangement goes, by no means am I a musical expert. Any resemblance I have to one of those highbrow music reviewers is purely coincidental and far more likely than not accidental. To borrow one of their song titles, my reviewing style is that It’s Good If You Like It. So whatever they did technically to make their sound isn’t as important as the fact that I was impressed with the musicianship and the arrangements.
The band also has a very uplifting lyrical style, without the slightest hint of angst. In fact, I would say that unlike many artists who pine about lost love, Jones is one who writes more about found and lasting love. Take the lyrics of Not Your Everyday Love Song or a song he wrote years ago for his wedding, Meant To Be, as examples. There’s also touches of humor in tracks like Amazing Gracie, God Has A Name, the homage to working people Another Day Another Dollar, and the requisite road song Get in the Car or “train song” Down The Track. Even the bittersweet title track doesn’t make you feel bad. Heck, there’s even a song based on a poem (As A Man Thinketh) and an instrumental called Sugar Baby to hold the listener’s interest.
It’s a collection Jones describes as favorites of his written over the last 40 years, so apparently all he needed was a group to play them out. That story reminds me of a band I reviewed awhile back called Tumbler, which performed a catalog of songs written over years of family jam sessions (and a good one at that, since it landed in that year’s top 5.) It’s not far-fetched to think this one could be so honored this year because it’s one of the more honest, hardworking, and fun records I’ve listened to in some time. Pretty good for a band that was “born” in a recording studio last fall.
Finally, the band states that they are looking to record a follow-up this fall, although who knows about that timetable with the recovery needed from Harvey. If you want to help them out, listen for yourself (note they are using Spotify, though) and if you like it snag a copy.
By the way, it looks like my musical hiatus is over as I have “stacks of wax” to go through now. This is the first of five I’ll be doing in the coming weeks.