Wednesday, 12 October 2016

"Free" by FREE feat Paul Rodgers, Paul Kossoff, Andy Fraser and Simon Kirke (September 2016 Island Remasters 1CD Reissue – Andy Pearce/Matt Wortham Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"... Songs Of Yesterday..."

In only a matter of months platter number 2 for FREE improved on the rough edges of March 1969’s "Ton Of Sobs" debut in almost every way (they were getting there fast). But it's another decade - so we get another version with yet another sound – and despite some niggling presentation flaws - like all the other titles in this new round – what a barnstormer this 2016 reissue is.

FREE fans will know that the October 2001 and February 2002 CD reissue campaign of all seven of their albums (six studio and one live) came with great Peter Mew remasters, decent bonus tracks and expanded booklets to match - and were mid-price at the time (there has been a Japanese SHM-CD variant since in mini-LP repro artwork).

But here we are in September 2016 with another CD reissue campaign of all seven albums accompanied by an eighth - the "The Free Story" compilation (a 2LP set onto 1CD). Unfortunately these new 2016 single-disc versions strip away those brilliant bonuses entirely and unwisely substitute the hugely informative liner notes of the 2001 and 2002 issues for booklets with only band photos. Essentially for Free's self-titled second album "Free" we're back to a straightforward transfer of the 9-track 1969 LP as is. But is another purchase necessary? I'd argue its 'essential'.

Despite the neutering of bonuses and the information-less booklet – this new 2016 reissue offers us one genuinely worthy consolation prize – a new 2016 ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM Remaster that breathes wonderful naturalistic vitality back into the album. On buying and reviewing the underrated "Highway", "Free At Last" and "Heartbreaker" CDs in this 2016 reissue cluster and loving their audio – I splashed out on more and the results are equally magical. Also with most of the eight being offered on Amazon at less than five pounds including P&P – you can of course argue that the price is right - and with their generic 'Island Remasters' see-through side panelling on the jewel case – they look good too. Here are the songs of yesterday...

UK released Friday, 9 September 2016 - "Free" by FREE on Universal/Island Remasters 473 187-1 (Barcode 602547318718) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 9-track 1969 UK LP and plays out as follows (35:36 minutes):

1. I'll Be Creepin'
2. Songs Of Yesterday
3. Lying In The Sunshine
4. Trouble On Double Time
5. Mouthful Of Grass
6. Woman [Side 2]
7. Free Me
8. Broad Daylight
9. Mourning Sad Morning
Tracks 1 to 9 are their second studio album "Free" - released October 1969 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9104 and November 1969 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4204. Produced by CHRIS BLACKWELL - it peaked at No. 22 on the UK LP charts (didn't chart in the USA).

The ten missing bonus tracks on the October 2001 Island Remasters IMCD 282 (Barcode 731458622529) version are: "Broad Daylight (Single Version)", "The Worm (Single Version)", "I'll Be Creepin' (Single Version)", "Sugar For Mr. Morrison (Single Version)", "Broad Daylight (BBC Session)", "Songs Of Yesterday (BBC Session)", "Mouthful Of Grass (Solo Version)", "Woman (Alternate Version)", "Trouble On Double Time (Alternate Version)" and "Mourning Sad Morning (Alternate Version". As you can see from this list of ten missing extras (including those tasty non-album B-sides "The Worm" and "Sugar For Mr. Morrison" - your loss is considerable – most of these bonus tracks adding huge punch to the overall vibe of the 2001 reissue (the Paul Kossoff and Paul Rodgers photo spines on the jewel cases are gone too).

The new booklet is 12-pages and shows a Trident Studios Tape Box photo of 'Songs Of Yesterday' and 'Free Me' on Page 2 (dated 11 June 1969) as well as the black and whites of the band - Fraser and Kirke at the piano and organ, Rodgers singing into a mike, Koss sat down with his guitar- alongside the 'naked girl on the beach with cube photos of the band' shot that adorned the inner gatefold sleeve of the original Island/A&M Records LP. The ‘legs akimbo lady’ front cover is Page 1 and the rear sleeve with track titles and recording details moved to the rear inlay of the CD. As with the new booklet for the "Tons Of Sobs" reissue - you're also struck by how our heroes looked so much older than their young ages belied (Bassist Andy Fraser had only just turned 16 while axeman Paul Kossoff was on the cusp of 18 when they recorded the album). Beneath the see-through CD tray are pictures of the seven reissued albums with the eighth being "The Free Story" double-album compilation from 1974 (for catalogue numbers see notes below) and the CD label repro's the UK Pink 'I' Label design of Island Records in late 1969 (there are no liner notes giving history, details etc.).

But a fabulous new master from ANDY PEARCE and an uncredited MATT WORTHAM – who did such great work on Donovan, Pentangle, Frankie Miller, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, the 2012 Rory Gallagher CD remasters of his Polydor and Chrysalis catalogue - and most recently the 2016 Budgie 3CD Box Set for their MCA LPs and the new 2016 'Deluxe Editions' of the Emerson, Lake & Palmer Island Records catalogue (see reviews for them all) - resoundingly compensates for all of that distasteful compromise.

I've had the October 2001 single-disc Remaster and the 2008 Japanese SHM-CD reissues for years now – both of which rock – but this new September 2016 single-disc version is an entirely different aural beast. There's suddenly staggering naturality and presence to the whole LP (just like the other albums in this series). Pearce and Wortham let things breathe (it's a trademark of their work) and the results are powerful to say the least. Their version is muscular and meaty. This is not loudness for loudness sake – not shrill so to speak – just in your face – huge power and presence - like an original tape should be. On to the music...

Reputedly to be called "Desolation Angels" - the band settled for the simpler self titled moniker and were rewarded with a very healthy chart position of No. 22 in the UK (Bad Co. would use the name "Desolation Angels" in 1978 on their Swan Song LP). Rodgers and Fraser had become the principal songwriters and the improvement in their talents over the patchy debut is immense (they co-penned every song except "Trouble On Double Time" which was a band composition). "I'll Be Creepin'" opens proceedings with a swagger that's undeniably Free - that wicked swing they got - Fraser's Bass and Kirke's Drums anchoring Rodgers and Kossoff as they promise "...I'll hold you in my arms..." The Free Box Set of 2002 took its name from "Songs Of Yesterday" - another winner. But the album takes flight for me with the sheer musicality of "Lying in The Sunshine". Most rock bands can pull out a great riff - but can they get you with an undeniably great ballad - Zeppelin had it - and so did Free. The Acoustic guitar is so clear as is that Kirke shuffle on the drums. When Island put out "The Stealer" as a UK 45 in November 1970 to promote the "Highway" LP - they slapped the smoocher "Lying In The Sunshine" on the B-side. But then Side 1 launches into the stratosphere - the stunning boogie of "Trouble On Double Time" and the 'Albatross' inspired instrumental "Mouthful Of Grass" (used in May of the following year as the B-side to the edit of "All Right Now"). I love this double-whammy - Rock and Soul sat comfortably alongside each other - and the remaster here is glorious on both.

Side 2 returns to the business of tight-trousered Rock with "Woman" - a superb guitar hook that's immediately joined by the band sounding tight and looking for a scrap with your sub-woofers. "Free Me" is almost doomy Sabbath Blues - but what gets me is the Audio which is so clear and powerful as Rodgers sings of " without you...there's no tomorrow..." Island tried a version of "Broad Daylight" as Free's debut UK 45 (Island WIP 6054) but it sank without a trace despite sporting a non-album B-side in "The Worm" (one of the bonus tracks on the 2001 CD reissue). It lacked the killer punch and catchiness of "Woman" or even "Trouble On Double Time". The album ends on another slow misery chant - Rodgers singing "...think of me sometimes my love..." as a chorus of voices echo his pain (I think its Sue Armstrong who provides the female voice and I don't know whose playing the flute). I love this album and I've felt "Free" the measure of its more famous follow-up "Fire And Water".

Across the seven new 2016 reissues we probably loose thirty to thirty-five genuinely cool bonus tracks of old and all that enlightening info in the booklets too - so buying their catalogue yet again may become a chore for some fans (that Guy Stevens Blues jam is fabulous). But they’re cheap at a fiver and we do gain fabulous new audio - and for many that's probably going to be the deciding factor.

"Free" was a monster step forward for the band from the promise so evident on the "Tons Of Sobs" debut released only months earlier in 1969. They would of course go on to become proper Rock Stars with album number three in June 1970 - "Fire And Water" with the all-conquering "All Right Now" amidst its many pleasures.

If you've any love for the band - you need this new version. And yet how good is it to hear FREE and this 1969 vinyl rarity sound so awesome again after all these decades...

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)

PPS: Amazon have typically lumped the 2001 and 2016 issues into the same review and it would appear - the same product entry – even though they've two distinct barcodes and prices. Even if you use the correct Barcode 602547318718 for the 2016 single-disc reissue it will bring you to the 2001 reissue that Amazon lists 'with' bonus tracks. So if you're specifically after the 2016 reissue with its different remaster (or the 2001 release) - ask the supplier you're buying from what version it is they're selling. If you’re just buying the Amazon Store issue for £4.99 – it will always be the 2016 9-Track remaster you receive minus any bonuses...

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