Nudging the years end this album probably does itself a disservice as it hasn’t enough time to bed itself in the memory of all of those top ten compilers who are right now beavering away at their lists (present company included). A pity as it’s a strong contender for inclusion with some sublime moments especially for those who like melodic Americana laced with powerful guitar playing and handsome harmony singing.
Freeman (on lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, drums, organ and piano and brother of Hobbit actor, Martin, trivia fans, ) and the Agreement (Abigail Downs, backing vocals, Jessica Spengler, bass guitar, Jonathan Hirsch, electric guitar, banjo and Dobro and Joe Ellis on drums) are a tight unit, well able to conjure up a muscular melody as on Scrabble From Afghanistan which drives along with a powerful beat as the guitars chime gloriously. It’s Your Lucky Day is another guitar driven corker , this time adding a jangled haze to the mix while the venerable B.J. Cole guests on pedal steel for the soaring Steel Away which is a contender for song of the year. Joyful in its delivery despite its subject matter of a woman wanting out of a relationship it captures the spirit of pioneers in country rock such as Gene Clark and latter exponents like The Jayhawks. Swirling organ, chunky guitar and Cole’s ethereal steel playing coalesce as if under a California sun while Freeman is joined by co writer, the very fine Brandy Zdan (of Twilight Hotel) on vocals with the pair of them in perfect harmony, a superb song. Alas Zdan’s appearance here is her sole contribution to the album but Freeman is well served on the other cuts by Rachel Davies who adds some tremendous harmony and backing vocals throughout the album. Steel Away might be sublime Americana music but for much of the album Freeman steers a course between America and his homeland. The opening song, The Knight is graced by the presence of Larkin Poe sisters, Megan and Rebecca Lovell on lap steel and mandolin but the lyrics and driving mandolin are evidence of the influence of Richard Thompson. Even stranger, Key of Me harks back to the mysticism and power chords of Pete Townshend back when he was trying to capture the “vibrations” of music on his ill fated Lifehouse project. Nevertheless Key Of Me is a powerful song with some fine gospel like wailing from Davies. Elsewhere Freeman utilises English folk song with Message From Limbo a simple acoustic guitar led rendition of a poem by Amy Tudor (who also wrote Scrabble From Afghanistan) but there is a return to Americana sounds with Hey Mama sounding like an old Gospel song although it addresses a modern issue while I’ll Never Be The Same Again has some rippling mandolin along with the guitar chimes. So far Freeman has managed to straddle the Anglo/American divide but towards the end he dives in headfirst with the rockabilly strut of Two Sugar Baby which features some fine picking from Richard Smith and harmonies from The Good Lovelies and it will set your brothel creepers a tappin’. Annie Ran Away winds up the album with a windswept Ghost Riders in the Sky type pitch, heavenly harmonies included. Finally, and perhaps inspired by Zdan’s dark musings with Twilight Hotel, Freeman offers a blood soaked tale in Hey Hey Indianna! which is American Gothic in delivery and explains the album art.