Reverend Freakchild – Dial It In | Album Review

Reverend Freakchild – Dial It In

Treated And Released Records T&R-009

11 songs – 48 minutes

Aided by a handful of top-flight sidemen, irreverent shaman Reverend Freakchild returns to the pulpit in his musical church where people of all faiths are welcome to deliver a sermon of blues with psychedelic overtones on this CD — eight originals and three covers that are entertaining and spirit lifting at the same time.

Although his method might seem odd to traditionalists, he definitely practices what he preaches. Raised in Hawaii and the son of parents steeped in classical music and the blues, he’s earned college degrees in divinity and philosophy from Northeastern University in Boston, and currently resides in Colorado, where he’s pursuing his master’s in divinity at Naropa University.

A former alternative rocker and jam band member who’s also sung gospel at Carnegie Hall, the Reverend insists: “Music is my religion. Through song, I seek transcendence.” The message he delivers fuses Judeo-Christian beliefs with Eastern philosophy and more.

A man who held a steady gig at New York City’s famed hippie hangout, Tobacco Road, for three years, he plays National steel, 12-string and acoustic guitars, organ, keyboard bass, harmonica, synthesizer and bells on this one, accompanied by percussionist Chris Parker (Paul Butterfield, Bob Dylan, Joe Cocker and John Hammond), harmonica players Hugh Pool (who produced Dial It In and also adds multiple stringed instruments) and Garrett “G. Love” Dutton (G Love And Special Sauce), and Mark Karan (Bob Wier and Ratdog) provides lead guitar on one cut.

Adding to the mix are bassists Robin Sylvester and Tim Kiah, keyboard player Brian Mitchell (B.B. King and Levon Helm), saxophonist Jay Collins (Gregg Allman) and backing vocals provided by Hazel Miller and Lisa Marie.

The eighth release in Freakchild’s catalog, it’s dramatically different that his most recent previous CD, a solo acoustic album which this writer savaged – possibly probably because, as the Reverend graciously pointed out, I’d missed his point of it being an ode to the sloppy and soulful approach of first-generation country blues legends. If that’s the case, I offer up a sincere public apology.

Recorded in analog to two-in. tape at Excello Studios in Brooklyn, N.Y., mixed to one-in. tape and released as an analog LP and digital CD, Dial It In kicks off with “Opus Earth,” which instantaneously sets the tone for what’s to come. It’s a spacy and inviting, and features bells, chants and earth sounds before a brief spoken invocation.

A cover of “Personal Jesus (On The Mainline)” — written by Martin Gore of Depeche Mode and a mainstay in the catalog of Johnny Cash. After a brief country blues intro, it erupts into a driving, medium-fast number with Freakchild on steel and Pool and  Parker driving the rhythm with rock-steady harp and drums. Like most of the work here, it has a throwback feel with the Reverend’s vocals buried ever so slightly beneath the instrumentation, but his baritone offerings still remain clean and audible.

The music gets a little funky with Karan on lead guitar for “Hippie Bluesman Blues” as Freakchild invokes occult imagery to describe his upcoming transformation after he crosses paths with a black cat. The title tune, “Dial It In,” comes with a hip-hop feel aided by Miller’s vocal. This time, the spiritual crossroad is in the Reverend’s mind as he’s driving while listening to late-night radio and seeking a higher power.

The tempo slows for “Skyflower,” a 12-string and synthesized string fiesta about unexpectedly finding new love, before the psychedelic rocker “Roadtrance” powers out of the gate. The sounds brighten again for the sweet “Damaged Souls” in which Freakchild insists than things aren’t as bad as they might seem. He provides comfort by stating: “Your house might be holy, but you’re not the only one home…alone.”

The uptempo rocker “15 Going On 50” precedes a country blues cover of Bob Dylan’s classic, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” before a take on Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man” and the outro “Opus Space” conclude the set.

Available from Amazon and other outlets, Dial It In is pleasant and spiritually uplifting throughout. Pick it up – especially if you’re an old-school hippie or a modern-day wannabe. It decidedly different than most mainstream releases today – and in a positive way.

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