Freedom – ‘Born Again, The Complete Recordings 1967-72’ (2023)

Uncategorized August 23, 2023

Freedom – ‘Born Again, The Complete Recordings 1967-72’ (2023)

English rock band Freedom was formed in August 1967 when founding Procol Harum drummer/vocalist Bobby Harrison and guitarist Ray Royer were joined by bassist Steve Shirley and keyboard player Tony Marsh, who was almost immediately replaced by Mike Lease.

The group went on to release five albums and several singles which have been gathered together in a new five disc box set on Cherry Red Records’ Grapefruit Records imprint.

Disc one is built around Freedom’s soundtrack for producer Dino de Laurentis’ film ‘Nerosubianco’ aka ‘Black On White’, originally titled ‘The Attraction’, the album released only in Italy at the time. Rather than compose incidental music the band tailored each of its ten songs to the film’s storyline. The resulting pop psych tunes are mainly driven by Lease’s keyboards, the main exception being the nearly eight minute title track which has piano, organ, guitar and drum interludes with horn accents. In addition Royer shines on the more uptempo numbers ‘To Be True’, ‘Decidedly Man’, ‘Seeing Is Believing’ and the hard rocking, heavily phased ‘Born Again’ the namesake of this collection. The disc is filled out by eleven bonus tracks. Highlights include the Procol Harum like ‘You Won’t Miss’, showcasing Lease’s organ and Royer’s guitar, and the uptempo, heavily phased ‘The Games If Over’ which features an extended Royer solo. Also included are ‘Where Will You Be Tonight’, a mid tempo piano led track with nice guitar accents by Royer, which was released as the a-side of the band’s debut single and its b-side ‘Trying To Get A Glimpse Of You’, a melodic tune with Lease’s piano complemented by tasteful Royer guitar fills, as well as extended versions of both single sides.

Disc two contains the band’s sophomore effort, 1969’s ‘Freedom At Last’ recorded by a completely revamped lineup with Royer, Lease and Shirley exiting the band replaced by guitarist Roger Saunders and bassist Walt Monaghan, as the group evolved into a power trio with a hard edged blues rock sound. The album, originally released only in France, mixes band originals, mainly written by Saunders, with covers of American blues and popular British rock tunes. The band shines on hard rock originals such as ‘Enchanted Wood’, ‘My LIfe’ and ‘Dusty Trails’ with Saunders’ guitar leading the way as well as lighter, more melodic material such as ‘Fly’ and ‘Can’t Stop With Me’ which display the band’s vocal harmonies, Harrison’s tasteful drum fills and the tight rhythm section of Monaghan and Harrison. Saunders’ guitar shines on covers of blues standards such as Howlin’ Wolf’s ‘Down In The Bottom’, ‘Hoodoo Man’ popularized by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, and Willie Dixon’s ‘Built For Comfort’, best known for Howlin’ Wolf’s version. The album’s real gem, however, may well be a a high octane take on The Zombies ‘Time Of The Season’ with Saunders’ hot guitar work, including two solos, supplemented by lots of cowbell and punchy organ and a gorgeously restrained, melodic cover of The Beatles’ ‘Cry Baby Cry’. The disc is closed out by both sides of a pop rock single left over from the band’s original incarnation, mating Shirley’s ‘Kandy Kay’ and Royer’s ‘Escape While You Can’.

Disc three centers around the group’s 1970 self-titled LP, the first released in the U.K. In contrast to earlier releases, the album is composed of almost all original material, with Saunders writing or co-writing five of the eight tracks. The long player opens with the blazing ‘Nobody’, penned by Saunders, who contributes an extended solo. ‘In Search Of Something’ is a heavy blues rocker with Saunders’ wah wah driven guitar soaring over an insistent beat. An eight minute re-recording of ‘Dusty Trails’ is even meaner and nastier than the earlier version with Saunders’ explosive guitar front and center. ‘Man Made Laws’ has a drum intro leading to a heavy groove and Saunders adding an extended solo. ‘Ain’t No Chance To Score’ showcases another scorching Saunders solo over the thunderous groove of Monaghan and Harrison. A cover of Albert King’s ‘Pretty Woman’ brings to mind Cactus or even Blue Cheer with its heavy riff and Saunders’ screaming solo. The band’s namesake tune is a five minute workout for Saunders, who wrenches every note out of his guitar as the group again shows off its vocal harmonies. The album’s standout closer is a cover of Ed Cobb’s ‘Dirty Water’, popularized by The Standells, somehow titled ‘Frustrated Woman’ on the album, although properly titled when released as a single in France. The tune’s deep groove is joined by Saunders’ heavy lead guitar as well as vocal harmonies, with piano accents added for good measure. The disc is fleshed out with the U.S. single version of ‘Nobody’ and the French single edit of ‘Dirty Water’.

Disc four presents 1971’s ‘Through The Years’ by which time bassist Monaghan had been dismissed, replaced by Peter Dennis who contributed bass and Moog synthesizer. The album, produced by Roger Bain of Black Sabbath fame, retained the hard-edged power trio sound of its two predecessors, this time consisting solely of band originals, with the departed Monaghan receiving credit on three tunes, Saunders and Harrison five each. The heavy blues rocker ‘Freestone’ opens the album with Saundes and Dennis contributing solos and the band showing off its vocal abilities. The title track is a melodic hard rocker featuring a nice tempo change and an extended wah wah aided Saunders solo. ‘Get Yourself Together’ features a heavy riff as Sanders and Dennis add solos. ‘London City’ is a Humble Pie style blues rocker with screamed vocals and another hot Saunders solo. ‘Thanks’ has an Elton John vibe with its gentle piano intro and plaintive vocals while Saunders adds tasteful guitar accents employing both acoustic and electric guitars. ‘Toe Grabber’ is another blues rocker, Saunders’ wah wah driven guitar soaring over the heavy groove of Dennis and Harrison, with vocals reminiscent of Steve Marriott as the band jams the album to a close.

Disc five features Freedom’s final long player, 1972’s ‘Freedom Is More Than A Word’, the band now a quartet with guitarist Steve Jolly joining the ranks. The band’s sound changed, becoming more eclectic. ‘Together’ opens the album on a gentle note, mixing wah wah guitar and violin. ‘Miss Little Louise’ is a relaxed, light and breezy tune, its restrained guitar hinting at George Benson. Freedom returns to its heavy side on ‘Sweaty Feet’ with its bluesy guitar lead line and solo. ‘Brainbox Jam’ is a funky, jazzy instrumental with the band showing off its chops as members alternate taking solos. ‘Direction’ is a soulful number about finding oneself after being lost, featuring a piano interlude leading to an emotive guitar solo. The LP’s highlight is a piledriving cover of Don Nix’s ‘Going Down’, the group returning to its earlier sound with heavy blues guitar front and center. ‘Dream’ is an introspective piano driven soft rocker with strings adding atmosphere to the wispy vocals and restrained guitar. ‘Ladybird’ is a forlorn tune, its gentle piano and vocals supplemented by horns, adding to its sad vibe as the album, disc and box set come to a close.

Freedom ‘Born Again-The Complete Recordings 1967-72’ comes in a clamshell box with each of the five discs coming in mini-LP sleeves. The set comes with a 28 page full color booklet which includes an extensive essay by David Wells and full track listings as well as being profusely illustrated with album and single artwork, band photos and other memorabilia. Freedom sounds wonderful thanks to the mastering job of Simon Murphy. The set will appeal to fans of psychedelic and hard rock, classic rock, as well as 1960s and 1970s rock in general and comes highly recommended.

Kevin Rathert

Freedom – ‘Born Again-The Complete Recordings 1967-1972’ (Grapefruit Records, 2023)

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