A gilded, soft string pattern welcomes us in Freightrain’s “Elijah,” the opening track of their all new album Outside Ourselves, and before we know it the band is washing us in a mammoth melody that is as mighty as a tidal wave yet as gentle as an afternoon breeze. The guitar wraps around us but refrains from constricting us against the cushioning of a tender organ and hollow percussive beat. Slowly we melt under the heat of the ascending grooves that are grinding away relentlessly and the jazzy smack of the introductory riff in “Better Man” that sinks its teeth into our souls. The smoky vocal from Robert “Freightrain” Parker himself penetrates the drone of the harmonies and suddenly a playful but melancholic ballad is transformed into a searing exhibition in poetic contemplation.
The title track comes swinging hard out of the darkness and like its two predecessors takes a minute to get into the guts of its grooving. It doesn’t do much to prepare us for the blues juggernaut that is “Wake Up,” but to be fair I don’t really know what would have. “Wake Up” is efficiently arranged and nimbly produced with a mix that favors the thick guitar parts over everything else, but it narrowly escapes the pitfalls of overindulgence. The stomp of the track is a great primer for the pop polish of “Don’t Stop the Music,” which features a special appearance by legendary sax man Bobby Militello. Say what you will about the phrase’s overuse, but there really is something to satisfy everyone’s taste in Freightrain’s latest album.
The pulsating swagger of “You Found Me” might represent one of the most straightforward moments that Outside Ourselves brings to the table, but I don’t think it qualifies as filler in the slightest. SRV-style sizzle is plentiful in “Dark Season Blues,” the record’s undisputed crown jewel of guitar riffage, and even though lead guitar player Grace Lougen flirts shamelessly with cerebral psychedelia as this album nears its conclusion, the solos never become disingenuous or recycled from other sources. While numbers like “I Still Believe” have a lot in common with the funk experimentation of late 70’s crossover pioneers, these songs are unquestionably original nuggets of modern rock eccentricity – the likes of which just weren’t possible prior to the advent of contemporary recording technology.
Outside Ourselves comes to a poignant close with “Elijah (Reprise),” which takes the melodic narrative of the first track and repurposes it with a lush, suffocating bottom-end. Upon each listen I’ve found that this record reveals yet another layer of the enigmatic identity that Freightrain have fashioned for themselves, and in a year full of standout releases from exciting new talent they yield an album that is chock full of vitality and stately harmonies. While not designed with the pop establishment’s cookie cutter template in mind, Outside Ourselves doesn’t over exaggerate its experimentalism and also provides us with a smorgasbord of intriguing sounds and multifaceted rhythms that music enthusiasts could spend hours poring over and analyzing. I highly recommend this LP – it’s a milestone release from a deeply gifted group of musician’s musicians.
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