This album’s been out for a while now but with Freakwater playing in Glasgow tonight it deserves a mention. Essentially a vehicle for Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin’s love of ancient sounding Appalachian and American Gothic sounds Freakwater set the standard for a bare boned and raw Americana sound in the nineties, Old Paint being a particularly good example. Scheherazade is their first album in ten years and while the vocal pairing of Bean and Irwin remains the focal point the album is their fullest yet in terms of arrangements with their long term bass player, David Wayne Gay, augmented by a host of Kentucky musicians and pertinently Warren Ellis, presumably happy to be ensconced in the badlands yet again.
From start to end the album is a glorious collection of blood soaked tales and grim narratives. The opening What the People Want recounts a violent and bloody encounter, a woman “split from stern to stern” and thrown down a well as Ellis’ spooky fiddle scrapes away. The lullaby Rock A Bye Baby is transformed into a vertiginous nightmare replete with squalling guitar battling an unhinged banjo on Down Will Come Baby. There’s a crepuscular element in the sly guitar lines on Falls Of Sleep, a song that foreshadows an execution while The Asp and The Albatross derives from Coleridge and Shakespeare as the band deliver a powerful folk rock sound which recalls the singular oddity that was Farewell Aldebaran, Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s psychedelic folk masterpiece.
Bolshevik and Bollweevil and Take Me With You are more akin to the Freakwater of old, the voices prominent over a restrained backing but sitting in perfect harmony with their sibling songs here. The album as a whole is a fine addition to what was already a fine canon.
Freakwater are playing Broadcast, Glasgow tonight. On the strength of this album it looks like a night to remember.