KIND OF BLUEGRASS
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