Tuesday, 11 October 2016

"Tons Of Sobs" by FREE (2016 'Island Remasters' CD Reissue - Andy Pearce/Matt Wortham Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...Walk In My Shadow..."

Talk about a classy beginning – rough round the edges for sure – but would we have our FREE any other way. But it's another decade, so we get another version with yet another sound – and despite its niggling presentation flaws – 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 eight - 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 explosive debut "Tons Of Sobs" we're back to a straightforward transfer of the 10-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 tearful details...

UK released Friday, 9 September 2016 - "Tons Of Sobs" by FREE on Universal/Island Remasters 473 181-5 (Barcode 602547318152) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 10-track 1969 UK LP and plays out as follows (39:04 minutes):

1. Over The Green Hills Pt. 1
2. Worry
3. Walk In My Shadow
4. Wild Indian Woman
5. Goin' Down Slow
6. I'm A Mover [Side 2]
7. The Hunter
8. Moonshine
9. Sweet Tooth
10. Over The Green Hills Pt. 2
Tracks 1 to 10 are their debut studio album "Tons Of Sobs" - released March 1969 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9089 and August 1969 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4198. Produced by GUY STEVENS (Engineered by ANDREW JOHNS) - it didn't chart in either country.

The eight missing bonus tracks on the October 2001 Island Remasters IMCD 281 (Barcode 731458614920) version are: "I’m A Mover (BBC Session)", "Waitin’ On You (BBC Session)", "Guy Stevens Blues (Blues Jam)", "Moonshine (Alternate Take)", "Sweet Tooth (Early Take & Alternate Lyrics)", "Visions Of Hell (Unreleased Master Mix)", "Woman By The Sea (Alternative Version)" and "Over The Green Hills (BBC Session)". As you can see from this list of missing extras - 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 Morgan Recording Studios Tape Box photo of 'Woman By The Sea' on Page 2 (dated 8 October 1968) as well as the black and whites of the band that featured on the inner gatefold sleeve of the original Island/A&M Records LP (the boys looking like squatters and vagrants in need of a good wash and several weeks in an Army boot camp). The cheery ‘blue coffin, tiger and bunny rabbit’ cover extends across the front and rear of the booklet while there are some new black and whites of our heroes looking 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 'Orange and Black Eye Logo' 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 Pentangle, Frankie Miller, Thin Lizzy, Wishbone Ash, the 2012 Rory Gallagher CD remasters 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...

The segue of the 51-second Part 1 of "Over The Green Hills" into the manic "Worry" has always felt wrong to me. Just when you've begun to love the Acoustic Soulful Rock of "Green Hills" - it fades into wild Kossoff soloing that never really seems to go anywhere special. But what you do notice this time around is the Rodgers vocal and those drums - cleared than before. "Walk In My Shadow" opens proceedings proper - that huge FREE rocking sound - all four members of the band contributing to the song. And I love that 'feel' he sings - a trademark of his style. "Wild Indian Woman" that drove our Paul wild until she had his child suffers from hammy lyrics but I like the piano rolls that can now be heard better. Side 1 ends on an eight-and-a-half minute winner - the Led Zeppelin Bluesy hard rock of "Goin' Down Slow" - a James Oden song covered by stacks of luminaries including Howlin' Wolf, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Jimmy Witherspoon and tons of hip sobbing white guys like Long John Baldry, Davy Graham and now Free. Kossoff gets a chance to show off while Fraser and Kirke anchor him with a rock solid rhythm as Rodgers pleads like he means it "...somebody please write my mother and tell her the shape I'm in..." (will do Paul).

But then the album suddenly delivers a classic - and typically it’s the first Rodgers/Fraser credit on the LP - Side 2's fantastic opener "I'm A Mover". The massive riffage and the rhythm-section’s chug feel huge here - genuinely exciting even after all these years. We're then hit with cover number 2 - Booker T & The MG's "The Hunter" which was first aired by Albert King in August 1967 on his Stax Album "Born Under A Bad Sign". Others who'd had a go at its adaptable riff included Ike & Tina Turner, Blue Cheer and Pacific, Gas & Electric - whilst FREE would return to it with a barnstorming version on the "Free Live" album in 1971 - the crowd screaming wildly during Kossoff's incendiary solo. Time for some misery - "...sitting in a graveyard...waiting for the dawn...leaning on my tombstone...'til the night is gone..." Rodgers moans (nice) - another band effort at the Blues. "Sweet Tooth" could have been a great single to follow the non-album "Broad Daylight" which Island tried as a 45 in the UK in March 1969 (Island WIP 6054) - huge drums on this one. And were back to “Over The Green Hills” with Part 2 - two minutes of an Acoustic ballads pining for nature and clean air in the lungs.

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.

"Tons Of Sobs" is a powerful debut but it's patchy too if we’re being truthful. 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 602547318152 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 10-Track remaster you receive...

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