Free – Free (1969)

Free_Free4 out of 5 Stars!

The legendary band’s self-titled second album, just as solid as its debut release Tons of Sobs earlier that same year, came to be considered another cherished gem by many fans, including myself.

On this release—oh, hell, on just about every single album on which he appears—Paul Rodgers nails each performance, his gruff and emotionally charged voice always laden with drama and angst, and clearly showing why he’s considered one of the best singers in the biz. Not only do the musicians—drummer Simon Kirke, bassist Andy Fraser (RIP), and guitarist Paul Kossoff (RIP)—play their blues-loving hearts out on both the gruff and forceful rockers we well as the laid-back, sometimes-haunting, folk-inspired ballads, but the album also contains a wealth of classic songs in the form of “Broad Daylight,” “Trouble on Double Time,” “Mourning Sad Morning,” “Songs of Yesterday,” and the wonderfully stark “Free Me.” Plus, my two favorite tunes on the album, “I’ll Be Creepin'” and “Woman”—both destined to be admirably covered by Three Dog Night in future years—would have also seemed right at home on any platter by the future Bad Company.

With Rodgers’s soulful wailing, Fraser’s funk-heavy bass, Kirke’s solid percussion, and Kossoff’s tasty guitar riffs and often subtle and heart-rending lead insertions, this highly talented group not only entertained with seeming ease, but simultaneously created a signature sound for itself, one that’s never been perfectly duplicated in rock ‘n’ roll history.

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Free – Fire and Water (1970)

Free_FireWater4 out of 5 Stars!

Fire and Water was the first Free album I ever purchased (back in ’74), based not only on the classic track “All Right Now,” but also because the musical press had started reporting that Paul Rodgers was rumored to be joining up with Deep Purple as a replacement for Ian Gillan. Well, being a die-hard fan of Purple’s yet being completely unfamiliar with Rodgers’s previous work (aside from “All Right Now”), I wanted to see what I might expect on future Purple albums if the rumors proved true.

Well, of course the rumors proved false—Rodgers had actually turned down Deep Purple’s offer in favor of forming Bad Company—yet in my haste to sample Rodgers’s voice, I nevertheless discovered a talented and important band I might not have been prompted to investigate until years later.

But, although I adored Rodgers’s extraordinary vocal gifts upon first hearing this album, I didn’t automatically fall in love with Free itself. You see, apart from that mega-hit song “All Right Now,” along with “Remember,” the opening title track, and the killer “Mr. Big,” with the awesome guitar and bass solos in its middle section, I recall being slightly disappointed by the remainder of the album since I was hoping for even more tracks in a rocking, heavier vein (basically, I’d incorrectly assumed that Fire and Water would be loaded with tracks bathed in the same overall style and energy of “All Right Now”). This seven-song collection, however, seemed somewhat “ballad heavy” overall, way too light for my tastes at the time (remember, I was a die-hard Purple fan) and I listened to it in full only a handful of times before finally shelving it.

But then several years passed, and as my musical tastes broadened and I slowly acquired additional albums by the band—and also became a huge fan of Bad Company—I pulled out the album again. After several additional hearings, I thankfully came to fully appreciate the general “lightness” of the material, the stripped-down and often sparse instrumentation and the beautiful subtleties of songs such as “Heavy Load,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” and “Oh I Wept, and the stellar yet laid-back performances of each musician.

Now, all these decades later, I consider Fire and Water (as well as Free’s other studio albums) an undeniable classic, with John Kelly’s bare-bones production rather charming and intriguing, making it seem as if the band is performing a live and intimate concert for the listener.

And RIP to both Andy Fraser and Paul Kossoff.

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