If there was a prize to be won for being the most frustratingly wonderful band on the alternative country scene then I know where the smart money would be. Where some bands seem to bother the north-east’s listings guides on an almost monthly basis, enigmatic Kentuckians Freakwater are making a rare appearance at The Cluny 2 on Thursday 13th October as part of their first UK tour in over a decade, coincidentally in support of their first album in ten years, Scheherazade.
Earlier albums dished up starkly atmospheric slices of American Gothic pie and it’s great to hear that the melancholy and the darkness is still present in this latest outing. The dual vocals of Janet Bean and Catherin Irwin, backed by sparse Appalachian country folk are as mesmerising, austere and unsettling as ever.
Album opener ‘What the People Want’ is an eerie drive in the backwoods; the whining fiddle warning you not to look out of the back window as the subtle picking and banjo light the road ahead.
Switching to a more upbeat feel, ‘The Asp & The Albatross’ follows in a more traditional country style but still there’s that lyrical gloom of night casting its shadow.
It would be foolish to paint Freakwater with any kind of lazy Americana coloured brush though. They’ve been around since before the term was the lazy catch-all that it’s now become. ‘Down Will Come Baby’ twists the old rock-a-bye lullaby into a twisted jammed-out psyche swirl that you’re unlikely to hear on radio friendly recent Nashville releases.
Whereas previous works in their canon have seemed to stick to a fairly set formula – ghosts, deaths, misery and folk demons with a minimal musical backing- the scope of this latest record is wider; at least in terms of instrumentation. Picking up the phone and drafting in a number of Kentucky scene veterans is a hugely successful step up in terms of craft and arrangement. Warren Ellis of Dirty Three on violin lifts the already strong storytelling to another level.
As you hear everything come together on the astonishing ‘Memory Vendor’ – lap steel, fiddle, storytelling, the devil-may-care wails of Bean and Irwin – you’d really be doing yourself a massive disservice if you don’t make the effort to get down to the Ouseburn to see them this time around. It might be another ten years before they make it here again.
Photographer – Tim Furnish
Owner of the actual clock that Bill Haley used to rock around.
Always having to give Electric Wizard 50p for the meter.
Gave Heartbreak Hotel a five star review on Trip Advisor.
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