Praise be, the mighty Freakwater is back!
Ten years past their last release, Thinking Of You from 2005, Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean have resurrected the unique hybrid of old-time mountain music and indie rock that has been a hallmark of the Freakwater sound since the band’s first album in 1989. Opening the record with a grisly murder ballad, “What The People Want”- They split that girl from stem to stern/Whose baby are you/Stand back boys then take your turn– the voices of Irwin and Bean in harmony form a delicious, mournful sound that reminds a listener of the Carter Family. But A.P. and his girls never graced us with a cut such as “Down Will Come Baby” which starts with a Irwin banjo line before charging into garage rock, or “Velveteen Rabbit” that owes much to the swinging, ’60s country-pop sound of Lee Hazelwood.
The pair are joined long-time collaborator David Gay on bass and James Elkington (Tweedy, Eleventh Dream Day) on pedal steel, and together with Warren Ellis (Nick Cave, Dirty Three) on flute and violin, and Sarah Balliet on cello, Freakwater still manages to sound both contemporary and archaic in the same moment. Both are excellent songwriters, such as Bean’s “The Asp and the Albatross” with it’s lazy, country-rock feel or the righteous “Number One With A Bullet” from Irwin, able to invoke the feel of the plaintive mood of Appalachian country ballads before spiraling into a electric guitar-fueled hoedown.
Freakwater are essentially timeless- able to cast themselves back to a forgotten era while remaining as fresh as today’s news, and Scheherazade is a welcome return from the pair. Just don’t keep us waiting so long for the next one, ok?