It’s been close to decade since the last Freakwater release, Thinking Of You. Stalwarts, Catherine Irwin and Janet Bean came together with long time low-end picker Dave Gay for the latest, most beautiful offering of perfectly off-beat harmonies, lyrics sans filter, and copious smatterings of fiddle, cello, pedal steel, mandola, and crack guitar work in both the electric and acoustic persuasions.
I’d be lying if I said I’m not constantly waiting for Will Oldham’s (Bonnie Prince Billy) shaky, spooky voice to pipe up with some nonsense lyrics about cum or the sea, but it must be something in that Louisville, Kentucky, freakwater that lends itself to an acute strangeness in songcrafting and melodic construction. If nine years is how long it takes to put together a long player by this band, than consider it time well spent.
Scheherazade is wholesomely weird and deliciously off-kilter, a genuine piece of art following along with no treasure map or audible equation. This is throwback Appalachian, front-porch art-folk indie rock, only instead of splintered hemlock and hand-hewn planks, Freakwater's is a wraparound porch with composite decking, blindingly whitewashed bead board ceilings, and plenty electricity for amps and electric guitars. Their music is just as unkempt as well-kept, oxymoronic, loose and familiar, like comfort food for your red-blooded American soul. They've been bringing the fervor with equal multitude since their freshman effort, 1989's self-titled Amoeba Records release.
Whether it’s extended jammy jaunts on retooled lullabies like “Down Will Come Baby,” or the playful ruse of “Skinny Knee Bone,” Freakwater is thick on the harmonies and handsome musicianship across the board, a trademark of the band since the mid-'80s.
“Number One with a Bullet” is a mid-record jewel, anchored by mandola and fiddle and peppered with organ fills at the chorus. Delightful guitar solos nail the dismal-cum-cheerless subject matter. The gleaming poppy shuffle of “Memory Vendor” is a riff that’s infectious, simple, yet adds a garage rock edge to the listless.
Bloodshot Records has very obviously sandbagged a triple threat offering of Scheherazade, a new Waco Brothers, and a new Robbie Fulks in the first quarter of 2016. Shot-caller Nan Warshaw and company are clearly making a statement. This is great for the peanut gallery. Who else will follow suit!?