FREEBO – If Not Now When (Poppabo PB2005)

If Not Now WhenA mainstay on the L.A. session scene for over 40 years, most notably spending nine years as bassist to Bonnie Raitt, since 1999 he’s also been making his own music and If Not Now When, his fifth, again self-produced, mixes up recent material with revisits to older songs. Joined by fellow session stalwarts such as Albert Lee, Jeff Pevar, Kenny Malone and Jerry Marotta, it opens, Skip Edwards on keys, with the confessional folksy strum and catchy chorus of ‘I Ain’t Runnin’ No More’, moving on the cascading chords of ‘Standing Ovation’ which, co-penned by co-producer Robert Tepper, an upbeat reflection on mortality and “a celebration for a job well done” previously featured on 2011’s Something To Believe.

He dips into the same album on seven other occasions: the acoustic ballads ‘That’s What Love Is’ and ‘When There’s No Place Like Home’, a number about those on the sharp end of an economic downturn and here featuring Chris Cage on accordion; the horns laced Cajun-inflected ‘She Loves My Dog More Than Me’; bluesy grooves ‘She’s My Personal GPS’ and ‘In The Afternoon Heat’; the rockabilly gospel slap rhythm ‘Sometimes It’s For Nothin’’ (itself previously appearing on 2000’s The End of the Beginning); and the current album’s country chugging title track which details his journey from sideman to frontman with all its what ifs and what if I can’ts. Aside from the backing musicians, they’re essentially the same.

On the other hand, ‘To The Night’, a harmonica coloured song about world peace he co-wrote with Severin Browne and which featured on 2005’s Before the Separation, does have some slight tonal and pacing shifts to the arrangement.

The remaining three tracks are new, highlights being the soulful organ-backed acoustic personal religious affirmation of ‘A God Of My Own Choosing’ and the calypsoish ‘Call Me Freedom’, an autobiographical number about breaking free of others’ expectations and playing their game that features him on mandolene and Robert Greenridge on steel drums. On the downside is ‘Funk Up The Folk’, which starts off as a fingerpicked acoustic number of a people join together Guthriesque persuasion, but then decides folk music would be better with a groove, at which point it transforms into a James Brown/Fatback Band/Sly and the Family Stone-styled, brass-charged funky strut wondering “what would’a happened/If Woody had a Wah Wah” that manages to also sneak in a reference to Sonny and Cher’s ‘The Beat Goes On’. It’s playful and maybe it works live, but on disc it just had me reaching for the skip button. It ends apologising for adding a final verse “ ‘Cause folk songs, you know, are quite long/But we’re all out of things to express now”, the irony being that at five and a half minutes, it’s the longest track here. Still, after a lifetime following other musicians’ charts before deciding to be what he wanted to be not what he was groomed to be, perhaps a little self-indulgence can be excused.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

Freebo and Jerry Donahue – ‘My Personal GPS’ – live:

ALICE HOWE – Visions (own label AH002)

VisionsIt’s just three years since the Boston-based Howe decided to make music a full-time career, the catalyst being meeting Bonnie Raitt’s legendary bassist, Freebo, at a folk music conference. He invited her to Bakersfield, offering to produce her debut album as well as co-writing several of the songs, channelling such diverse influence as Mitchell, Baez, Muddy Waters and Taj Mahal into a collection that pays homage but is never slave to the 60s and 70s folk and blues on which she was raised.

Working with a tight house band, Freebo on fretless bass, Visions is a mix of originals and well-chosen covers from her parents’ record collection, kicking off with the Howe/Freebo co-write ‘Twilight’, a waltzing, reflective rootsy number about choosing between a relationship that pins you down or following the road stretching before you that afford as an early taste of her pure and airily flowing mezzo-soprano voice.

The first of the covers comes with a soulful, relaxed interpretation of Taj Mahal’s ‘Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes’, electric guitar provided by Fuzbee Morse with Al Keith colouring the percussion on congas. It’s followed by another co-write, the folksy fingerpicked ‘Still On My Mind’ with its nature imagery lyrics that again talk of memoires but also the call of a life yet unexplored and a restlessness as she sings how “I sat down by the riverside/Fearing I could drink it dry/And still not be satisfied”.

The sole self-penned number, coloured by John JT Thomas on accordion, ‘What We Got Is Gold’ is a gentle acoustic love song about valuing a relationship, especially when the life of a travelling musician means you may be often parted. Next up is the second of the five covers, Sam Cooke’s classic ‘Bring It On Home To Me’, a slow soulful sway on which her crystal vocals are complemented by Morse’s guitar licks, Thomas’s bluesy electric piano and warm trumpet and sax from Lee Thornburg and Paul Perez, respectively.

Freebo gets to revisit his past with the folk-gospel ‘Too Long At The Fair’, a song previously recorded by Raitt on her 1972 Give It Up album on which he played, the version here fairly faithful to that although you might detect hints of Marvin Gaye’s cover of ‘Abraham, Martin and John’ to the musical texture.

She stays with the blues for a slow burn though Muddy Waters’ ‘Honey Bee’ before amping up the charge for the bluesy swing co-write ‘Getaway Car’ (another life on the road track) with Thomas letting rip on Hammond organ and a full blown brass section scratching that itch.

The final co-write, another travelling troubadour lyric, is a country waltzer ‘You Just Never Know’ that brings in Jeff Fielder on dobro and Geoff Goodhue on mandolin, the album closing with one last cover featuring just Howe and Freebo for a simple strummed, slower paced and more reflective reading of Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’. One of the dictionary definitions of a vision is something beautiful. Seems appropriate.

Mike Davies

Artist’s website:

‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ – live: