KIND OF BLUE­GRASS

FREAK­WA­TER

Exclaim! - - WOOD, WIRES & WHISKEY -

Scheherazade Janet Bev­eridge Bean and Cather­ine Ir­win have been record­ing and per­form­ing as Freak­wa­ter for nearly 30 years. They were some of the first mu­si­cians to ex­plic­itly marry a blue­grass aes­thetic with a punk rock ethos. Their songs em­brace the Amer­i­can work­ing class aes­thetic with no smirk of irony, but with­out the blind wor­ship of the re­cent con­vert, ei­ther. They’re the brainy, down-to-earth great-aunts of alt- coun­try; let’s all grow up to be like them. Scheherazade is Freak­wa­ter’s first stu­dio al­bum in a decade, and they’ve never been bet­ter. Bean, Ir­win and bassist David Wayne Gay are joined by band new­bie Jim Elk­ing­ton, and have made a magnetic song cy­cle wor­thy of its ti­tle. Bean and Ir­win’s dis­tinc­tive, al­most dis­so­nant har­monies are matched by the qual­ity of the song­writ­ing here; both have honed their skills dur­ing the hia­tus, and it shows. The songs on Scheherazade are orig­i­nal, though richly in­formed by tra­di­tional Amer­i­cana. Most of them sound like they could be from any time in the last 80 years. Some re­call spe­cific pe­ri­ods of mu­sic: “Vel­veteen Mata­dor” passes as out­law coun­try, while “Take Me With You” is old-timey as heck. It could all be pas­tiche, un­til one re­al­izes that the lyrics and ar­range­ments are just too weird for any other time but now. (Blood­shot, blood­shotrecords.com)

WHY HAS IT BEEN SO LONG SINCE THE LAST RECORD­ING?

Bean: Tim­ing is strange. You think some­thing’s not that long ago; as you get older your per­spec­tive shrinks in on it­self and it doesn’t seem that long. Ir­win: It’s like, “How old is my dog?” I re­ally have no idea. And I guess I should have thought that ten years was a big­ger deal given our de­mo­graphic, given the North Amer­i­can life­span. I’m the sin­gle de­mo­graphic whose life­span is ac­tu­ally shrink­ing — the un­der­e­d­u­cated white per­son.

WERE YOU WAIT­ING FOR THE SONG­WRIT­ING TO HAP­PEN OR­GAN­I­CALLY?

Bean: We were al­ways writ­ing songs. It’s not so much that the cre­ative thing is or­ganic, it’s more that our in­er­tia is or­ganic. It’s our in­abil­ity to get out of the house in the day­time. Ir­win: We were wait­ing for our in­er­tia to sub­side. Bean: You just have to lean, roll a lit­tle, then you can move for­ward. We’re work­ing on a new model here, we’re forg­ing new ground: just put out a record ev­ery ten years. A sin­gle work each decade. And then if things don’t work out, ev­ery­one’s for­got­ten by next time. EMILY ZIMMERMAN

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