Label: Bloodshot Records
Release Date: 02/05/2016
One might be forgiven for feeling some confusion as far as Freakwater is concerned. Never mind the fact that much of the band’s line-up is interchangeable with that of the band Eleventh Day Dream, another Chicago-based outfit of a similar variety. Or that Scheherazade is Freakwater’s first album in ten years, a seemingly lengthy span of time that all but assures a certain degree of obscurity in this quick to forget world. And so too, having not one, but two front women in the persons of Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Ann Irwin offers the potential for further confusion, given the lack of a single song focus.
Ironically then, Freakwater’s sound is surprisingly simple and utterly without pretence. As evidenced on this lovely new album, the sound is thoroughly archival, of actual Americana vintage. The duo’s heartfelt harmonies are seemingly ragged but always in sync, making songs such as “What the People Want” and “Bolshevik and Bollweevil” particularly affecting, while instilling ominous overtones in the otherwise compelling “Down Will Come Baby and “Falls Of Sleep.” The result is a kind of goth infusion that strikes at the heart of old school synchronicity. Bean and Irwin aren’t your typical duet; they sing in counterpoint one another as opposed to sharing lead, and on the aforementioned “Down Will Come Baby and “Falls Of Sleep,” the sound is both haunting and harrowing.
The musical settings are equally intriguing, mostly made up of traditional instrumentation that brings in guitar, mandola, banjo, pump organ, flute and pedal steel. The arrangements are burnished with an old time lustre that makes such mournful material as “Take Me With You,” “Number One With A Bullet” and “Velveteen Matador” sound as if they were lifted directly from an old church hymnal. Indeed, these tunes sound like they belong to the ages. Then again, like the character referenced in its title, this Scheherazade clearly seems capable of spinning many tales.
– Lee Zimmerman