10 songs – 44 minutes
I’m Free is a highly enjoyable release from Montreal-based singer-guitarist-songwriter, Jordan Officer. The first song, “At Least I’ve Got The Blues”, aptly foreshadows the contents of the album, as Jordan talks over the walking bass and minor key chords, telling the listener: “Hi, my name is Jordan Officer. I’m 36 years old and I have two kids: a boy and a girl. I’m from Montreal but I’m in New York right now. We’re all trying not to drive each other too crazy while I make this record. I love and have played many styles of music: jazz, country, rock and roll. But these days, I’m back to my original style. My first love. The blues.” Subtly, the spoken voice transforms into song, and what sounded at first like a stuttering rhythmic backing slips almost unnoticed into a shuffling, swinging groove.
Officer spent six months in New York having received a grant from the Conseil des arts et des letters du Quebec and the result is I’m Free: eight self-penned tracks and two covers of jazz-inflected blues, played with energy, passion, originality and intelligence.
The two well-chosen covers are the classic “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and a magnificent reading of the Western movie theme, “Hang ‘Em High”, in particular when Officer lays down some dirty, single-note blues playing on the fade-out. The original songs touch on various blues styles and there are great moments in nearly every song. “A Night Of Fun” is a dancing, calypso blues; “When We Were Just Two” features a Bo Diddley beat with heavily tremoloed guitar; and the upbeat, swinging “Two Will Do” reflects Officer’s jazz background. The latter two songs, together with “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”, were recorded with just guitar and drums as backing instrumentation, no bass, which adds an almost “live” feel to the recordings.
One of the highlights of the album is “I’m All Alone”, a relatively simple 12-bar blues that borrows the riff from the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out”, but the band captures an irresistible toe-tapping groove from the first note, and the riff is given an elastic inevitability by Officer.
Officer is a superb guitar player, with his own style and a warm full-bodied tone. His playing throughout is exemplary, but is particularly impressive on the slow blues of the title track, perfectly matching his voice as he sings “I’m free, free, baby. I’m free as any man can be. But if you know what’s good for you, honey, you might not want to mess with me.” His jazz-tinged playing at times suggests hints of the likes of T-Bone Walker or Ronnie Earl, but his sound is very much his own, especially when he slowly bends a single note over several bars. His solo on this track is an outstanding example of restraint and taste and the song is one of the stand-out blues recordings of 2014.
The backing musicians on I’m Free fit Officer’s musical vision perfectly. The contributions of drummers Charley Drayton (Keith Richards, Johnny Cash, Herbie Hancock) and Tony Mason (Joan Osborne, Martha Wainwright, Bo Diddley) are especially important, adding grit and innovative rhythmic drive to the bass of Andy Hess and Jeff Hill.
Overall, I’m Free is a very impressive, guitar-led, contemporary electric blues album from a distinctive talent that deserves wider recognition. Highly recommended.