Reverend Freakchild – Preachin’ Blues
Treated And Released Records T&R 008
16 songs – 40 minutes
Don’t let the name fool you. Reverend Freakchild definitely preaches.
An eclectic guitarist and harmonica player, he was raised in Hawaii, the son of a blues loving father and classical pianist mom, and possesses a degree in divinity and philosophy from Boston’s Northeastern University, where he played in alternative rock and jam bands and appeared at Carnegie Hall with a gospel choir before embarking on a career in music delivering what he’s termed in the past hillbilly Zen-punk blues.
Preachin’ Blues is his seventh album using the unusual moniker, and a follow-up to Illogical Optimism, a three-disc release that hit the street last year. This release finds him solo and acoustic, accompanied only by his resonator guitar and a rack-mounted harmonica, as he delivers an interesting take on spirituality in performances captured live at KBOO radio in Portland, Ore., and a blues club in Berlin, Germany.
The Reverend needed plenty of faith to produce this one. Just prior to the Oregon sessions, he lost his guitars and gear to a thief in San Francisco during a stop on a three-month tour. All of the material here — eight tunes interspersed with a seven brief portions of an academic essay entitled “Transcendence Through Music: Buddha And The Blues.”
The message, I’m sure is heartfelt, and the songs and accompanying sermon – broken up in the seven brief segments — flow in the songster style – a mix of tunes from different genres interspersed with insights from the stage.
The original instrumental “Holy Breathing Blues” kicks things off. Freakchild lays down a repetitive accompaniment on six-string as he plays lead on harp. He’s a lip player who plays chords rather than individual notes, and his technique on the instrument doesn’t range far beyond what you’d expect when you give a youngster a diatonic harp for the very first time. The first portion of the essay follows — with others preceding all but the final song.
Next up is a pedestrian cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” before the traditional “In My Time Of Dyin’” precedes the title cut, a version of Son House’s “Preachin’ Blues.”
“Kiss,” once a huge hit for Prince, receives an acoustic treatment before the Freakchild original, “All I Got Is Now,” stresses acceptance of your current situation instead of worrying about the past or what’s to come. Three more frequently recorded tunes from the past – the traditional “Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down,” Rev. Gary Davis’ “It’s Gonna Be Alright” and another House number, “Grinnin’ In Your Face” – bring the set to a close.
Well-meaning with a good message, and available through CDBaby. But here’s the sad truth: As a blues critic, my job here is to focus on the music, and I’m afraid that the thief at the top of this review probably was trying to do the world a favor when he stole the gear. The best part of this CD is the spoken word intervals, not what surrounds them. Reverend Freakchild’s caterwauling vocals are a perfect match with rudimentary picking and harp skills. That said, his spiritual views are worthy of a congregation.
Pick this one up only if you’re gathering a Top 10 list of worst recordings of the year. Fortunately for anyone who gives it a listen, it’s pretty short in duration.