11 tracks / 52:20
Micki Free had the perfect introduction to the bluesier side of rock and roll when his father was stationed in the military overseas and his sister took him to a Jimi Hendrix concert in Germany. This mind-blowing experience inspired him, and when the family moved back to the states and Micki started his own rock band, where Gene Simmons discovered him when they opened up for KISS. Free continued to refine his guitar and vocal chops, and in the 1980s he joined the rhythm and blues / soul group, Shalamar, earning three Grammy nominations and one win! Since then he has been creating his own material, collaborating with other Native American artists, and working with a few names you may have heard of before, such as Carlos Santana, Prince, and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
Micki’s latest project is a remastered version of his 2012 album Tattoo Burn, with two new original songs added to the mix. Tattoo Burn Redux is a thoughtful collection of original modern blues tunes that feature incredible musicianship, including killer guitar work from Free. If you look through the liner notes you will also see that he also acted as the producer and songwriter, and sang the lead vocals. He was joined in the studio by a stellar line-up of supporting musicians, including Bill Wyman (The Rolling Stones), Cindy Blackman-Santana (Santana and Lenny Kravitz), David “Hawk” Lopez (Crown of Thorns and Power Station), Kenny Gradney (Little Feat), Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach (JP Soars and Bernard Allison), Brother Paul Brown (The Waterboys), Jack Dailey (Lenny Kravitz), and David Santos (Billy Joel and Elton John).
Tattoo Burn Redux kicks off with one of the new songs, and “God is on the Phone” is a tight duet with Howard Hewett, Shalamar’s frontman. This funky blues has a lovely melodic bass line and searing guitar leads that lay just under the Hammond B3 and gospel lyrics. This is a strong start, and it is backed up by the title track, which is a more conventional blues rocker with a heavy mid-tempo beat. These two songs are very different, but they are both well written and Free’s sweet vocal and guitar work tie them together so that the transition is seamless. This synergy carries over throughout the album, enabling it to work as a whole despite the varied influences of blues, rock, soul, funk, gospel, and roots.
There is not a bad song on this CD, but there are a few standout cuts that should be noted. An ode to go-juice, ”Mojo Black Coffee,” is a full cup of old-school blues with a heavy riff and sublime harmonica from guest artist Randy Singer, who certainly knows how to blow a mean harp. The opposite of this is “Six Feet Down in the Blues,” which features amazing keyboards (including dramatic chords on the organ and fine improvisation on the piano) that plays well off of Micki’s guitar leads. Mr. Free has an amazing touch on the six-string, and his emotional output rivals that of any other bluesman I have ever heard.
The album ends with a pair of seasonal tunes that you might want to work into your next holiday party playlist. “Five Minutes Till Christmas” is a spicy serving of electric blues that is fun and different than the standards that are already boring when the radio stations start playing them the day after Thanksgiving. And the closer, “Sometimes in Winter,” a Hammond-fueled ballad that features Micki’s voice at the top of his range, choir vocals from Shea, Wendy Moten, and Trish Bowden. This is the other new tune, and it is cool that Free bookended this release with two strong originals that his fans have not heard before.
It is hard to say why Micki Free is not more of a household name, but he should be. Tattoo Burn Redux is a noteworthy release, as it is a serious set of soulful blues and rock that is performed flawlessly. I highly recommend that you head to the Mysterium Blues Records website to hear it for yourself, and while you are at it check out his Native American flute album, as it is a beautiful blend of flute, guitar, voice, and nature sounds. It is not the blues, but it does provide a great perspective for Micki and where he is coming from!