Reverend Freakchild – Illogical Optimism
3 Discs / 35 tracks / 2:29:00
Reverend Freakchild is a cool stage name, but this fellow actually has a theological background, having earned a degree in philosophy and religion from Boston’s Northeastern University. Currently he studies Tibetan Buddhism in Boulder, Colorado, but aside from these eternal quests he is also quite a musician.
But, the Reverend is not your everyday average bluesman that copies those who came before him.Sure, he can play the blues in all of its forms, but his albums are usually way out there in the blues realm: they are not what traditionalists expect, but they certainly make me listen and provide a few grins along the way. His latest release is no exception, and it is a worthy follow-up to last year’s amazing Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues. This time around he has put together a very ambitious project, and Illogical Optimism includes two discs of his own material plus a third disc from another reverend – Ramblin’ Jennings. Personnel for this project included the Reverend on vocals and guitar, Chris Parker on the skins, Hugh Pool on lap steel, and backing vocals from The Mulebone Singers.
There is a lot of material to go through, but here is a summary of what you will find on each of the three discs:
Disc 1: Odds, Ends and Other Amazingness is 67 minutes of a little bit of everything – this is not just a clever title. You will hear that the Reverend has mad guitar skills and a versatile voice, and that Chris Parker is a stellar drummer. These songs are a collection of popular and obscure covers, and none of them are performed as they were by the original artists. “Who Do You Love” maintains its Bo Diddley beat, but gets a spooky spoken-word vibe. “All Along the Watchtower” goes reggae, but keeps a Hendrix-like solo. And John Lennon’s “Imagine” has Lou Reed written all over it, so it is definitely unexpected and perhaps heretical to Beatles fans. This might all seem really terrible on paper, but everything works out beautifully and in the end and it all sounds wonderful. Trust me.
Disc 2: Everything is Now is something completely different. In a little under an hour, the gang gives a dozen completely different takes on the same song: the catchy “All I Got is Now” from the Hillbilly Zen-Punk Blues album. How different are they? He lays down versions of the song in French and German, as well as interpreting it in genres such as punk, funk, reggae, and even “hillbilly.” The hillbilly version (“Alla Gotta Na’”) is breathtakingly stripped down, with lovely banjo and harp accompaniment. Likewise, the acoustic demo version is really cool with a roots vibe and barely intelligible lyrics thanks to a really up-front guitar sound.
Disc 3: Kairos is from Florida’s Ramblin’ Jennings, and this EP (24 minutes) is stripped down and full of awesome. Jennings gets the work done with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, and a harmonica. There are seven original tunes of Gulf Coast blues that use plenty of slide guitar, and Jennings’ voice is perfect for them — full and timeworn, and dripping with character. There is also one traditional tune, and this vocals-only version of “John the Revelator” is powerful and full of terrifying biblical imagery.
Illogical Optimism is really amazingly unique. Reverend Freakchild pushes the boundaries of blues and approaches old songs in new ways that really makes the listener think. Also, his buddy Ramblin’ Jennings brings blues down to its basics to provide a cool touch point for the other two discs. Give it a listen for yourself, and be prepared for something totally different!