Friday, 10 March 2017
"Free Live!" by FREE (September 2016 Island/Universal CD Reissue [No Bonus Tracks] - Andy Pearce/Matt Wortham Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...
"...Get Where I Belong..."
Sometimes less is more - makes you concentrate on the core album and not the stuff around it.
Back in the day - as a 'live' act – FREE was a formidable beast to hear and see. And like Humble Pie, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy - they could slaughter all in their path – chop 'em down with the back of their hands. And this stomping new 2016 Remaster of their iconic 1971 "Free Live!" set is a reminder of that devastating power – when a band hits its stride and knows it.
Yet I suspect like many out there in digital land - I haven't played this slice of Rock swagger in decades - and man oh man has that been a mistake. Seven tracks taped at gigs in Sunderland and Croydon in 1970 bolstered up by one new 1971 studio recording tagged on at the end called "Get Where I Belong". This new CD reissue of "Free Live!" is sending shivers anew down my already ancient spine and making me ask – why isn't it up there in the reverence stakes with the Pie's "Performance", the Purp's "Made In Japan" and Lizzy's "Live And Dangerous" - as it rightly should be. Time to rectify that wanton musical oversight of our part methinks. Can I have the shaped envelope sleeve please...
UK released 9 September 2016 - "Free Live!" by FREE on Island/Universal 473 187-6 (Barcode 602547318763) is a straightforward transfer of the 8-track 1971 single LP and plays out as follows (40:28 minutes):
1. All Right Now – Side 1
2. I'm A Mover
3. Be My Friend
4. Fire And Water
5. Ride On Pony - Side 2
6. Mr. Big
7. The Hunter
8. Get Where I Belong
Tracks 1 to 8 are their 5th album "Free Live!" - released June 1971 in the UK on Island ILPS 9160 and August 1971 in the USA on A&M Records SP 4306. Produced by FREE and ANDY JOHNS - it peaked at No. 4 in the UK and No. 89 in the USA. Tracks 1 and 7 recorded 1970 at The Locarno in Sunderland – Tracks 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 recorded 1970 at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon – Track 8 recorded at Island Studios in March 1971.
The 16-page booklet is nicely done. Even though it doesn't have any liner notes per say - the pictorial layout is sweet - a photo of the Basin Street Studios Master Tape for four songs at Sunderland - black and whites of the boys in the studio and in a cafe - the lyrics and a colour photo of the boys looking like they need to get to the barbers right soon. The original vinyl LP has an 'envelope sleeve' with a letter flap on the rear and a set of affixed band-photo stamps on the front sleeve - all of that is of course completely lost in the new booklet. But at under a fiver - it's a deal.
But the big news is a fresh Remaster by ANDY PEARCE and MATT WORTHAM that is fantastic. Playing through "Mr. Big" as you hear Kossoff doing all that wild soloing and Fraser racing up and down the frets - the effect is amazing - what a band leaping off your lips every few moments. Both of these Audio Engineers have done great work with the catalogues of Rory Gallagher, Wishbone Ash, Thin Lizzy, Spooky Tooth, ELP and Budgie. I seek out anything they do (they're currently working on Deep Purple's Seventies output).
The full album version of their anthemic hit "All Right Now" at 5:37 minutes or its more famous Single Edit at 4:16 minutes (a UK No. 2 hit in June and July of 1970) – either way the song is hard to beat. Yet as they step onto stage and say a gracious ‘Good Evening’ – the British four-piece proceeds to do just that – trump an Ace of Hearts with an Ace of Spades. Their live take on "All Right Now" is imbibed with sparkle and energy. The clarity that Pearce and Wortham have brought to this Remaster too is thrilling – that guitar – voice – clear as a bell Bass – and those Drums – they’re all in your living room – strutting around in tight trousers and leering at your daughter as she flicks through her Jackie. What also gets you about FREE is the economy – Vocals, Guitar, Bass and Drums – and naught else. You wouldn’t think Andy Fraser’s Bass could make such a difference yet it does. Paul Rodgers (like Robert Plant, Joe Cocker and Rod Stewart) has one of those stunning Rock voices that oozes Soulfulness too. He can take a quiet ballad like "Be My Friend" and make it so damn personal and full of feeling. Couple that with Kossoff’s stunning playing – the combo is lethal. I’ve always believed the truly great bands have this quality. Then on a dime they switch into the huge riffage of "Fire And Water". One of the "Highway" albums highlights was the brill "Ride On A Pony" - a tremendous little chugger that would have made a great 45 too. Both "Mr. Big" and the finisher "The Hunter" elicit whoops and hollers from a clearly enamoured audience. The wildly overlooked and truly excellent studio cut "Get Where I Belong" is a gem in my mind - the kind of album track that deserves better notoriety.
OK - you could argue that the wicked Bonus Tracks that were on the 2002 Peter Mew Remaster should be on here too (from the same gigs) - cool stuff like the rocking "Woman" and the hooky "Trouble On Double Time" (amongst others. And that perhaps if Island Records had issued it as a double-album originally - then "Free Live!" would naturally sit up on the pedestal of 'Classic' Rock live-doubles. But what we do get is so damn good and to the point - and I for one am loving it.
"...Help me find a way...to get where I belong..." - Rodgers sang on the studio cut "Get Where I Belong". No need lads - on the evidence of this superb 2016 Remaster - it's kind of obvious you were already there...
PS: FREE titles in the 9 Sept 2016 Island Remasters CD Reissue Series are:
1. Tons Of Sobs (March 1969 debut UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-5 (Barcode 602547318152)
2. Free (October 1969 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-1 (Barcode 602547318718)
3. Fire And Water (June 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-4 (Barcode 602547318749)
4. Highway (December 1970 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 181-9 (Barcode 602547318190)
5. Free Live! (June 1971 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 187-6 (Barcode 602547318763)
6. Free At Last (June 1972 UK LP) - Island Remasters 473 183-9 (Barcode 602547318398)
7. Heartbreaker (January 1973 UK Final Studio LP) - Island Remasters 473 182-6 (Barcode 602547318268)
8. The Free Story (March 1974 UK 2LP Compilation) - Island Remasters 472 262-9 (Barcode 602547326294)
There is also a VINYL Box Set "FREE - The Vinyl Collection" on Universal/Island 473 187-9 released 9 September 2016 with seven LPs (Barcode 0602547318794)-->