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