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

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

New album from French Celtic band Doolin’

Doolin'

Doolin’ is France’s premiere Celtic band and their self-titled debut for Compass Records is one of the freshest and most exciting Celtic records in years. Natives of Toulouse, Doolin’ worked with legendary Irish guitarist John Doyle in the producer’s chair to achieve a sound uniquely their own—deeply rooted in traditional Celtic music but wonderfully flavored with French chanson, American roots music and even hip hop straight from the streets of Paris.

The band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record the album and worked in the legacy studio now owned by Compass Records where the Outlaw Movement in country music took root in the late 1960s. The resulting experience infused Doolin’ with an infectious energy. The musical essence of the band is captured on the fiery ‘The Road to Gleanntan’, the gorgeous reflective character of ‘Le Dernier Kouign Amann’, the beautifully rendered Jacques Brel classic ‘Amsterdam’, with its evocative strains of accordion and French lyric, and culminates with the bold integration of rap and John Doyle’s percussive guitar style on Sinéad O’Connor’s ‘Famine’. Collaborations with special guests Jerry Douglas (Dobro), John Doyle (guitar, bouzouki), Alison Brown (banjo), and Kenny Malone (percussion) brought stellar results on stand out tracks that include a reworking of the Steve Earle classic ‘Galway Girl’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’.

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‘Ballad Of Hollis Brown’ live:

MILLPOND MOON – Time To Turn The Tide (Tikopia Records)

MILLPOND MOON - Time To Turn The TideOpening an album with Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’ might be considered a risky move but Millpond Moon go on to cover Robbie Robertson’s ‘All La Glory’ so I felt that I had to stick around and see what sort of a job they made of it.

Millpond Moon are an Americana duo from Norway and if you haven’t heard of them: well, they played Glastonbury in 2004 so you’re about as unhip as I am. Most of their songs are written by Rune Hauge who shares lead vocals and strong harmonies with Kjersti Misje as well as playing some rather tasty acoustic lead guitar. They have some friends in support, of course, notably Rickie Simpkins on fiddle and drummer Kenny Malone – he played on Dobie Gray’s ‘Drift Away’ by the way.

Top among the original songs are ‘Lena Baker’, the story of the last woman to be executed in the electric chair in Georgia. That was in 1945 and you might not be surprised to learn that the state granted her a full pardon sixty years later. The other standout is ‘Modi’, a tribute to Modigliani, “the last true Bohemian”. This is one of two songs in which Millpond Moon employ a string quartet to enrich their sound.

As far ‘All La Glory’ – it sounds very good in its stripped-down form although some of the words still don’t make a whole lot of sense. Yes, I understand what it’s about but even so. Millpond Moon’s second album is sufficiently varied and very enjoyable. Yes, I like it.

Dai Jeffries

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‘Wayfaring Stranger’, filmed three years ago and now included on Millpond Moon’s new album: