Thinking of You...
nce upon a time, in the first half of the 1990s, it didn't seem possible to run into a music fan who wasn't touting the country genre. Whether stationed outside a Dinosaur Jr show to save one's ears or talking with a NC Record Exchange clerk who mentioned the possibility of the Ex touring soon, everyone seemed to be discovering the same old artists: Johnny Cash (of course), Willie Nelson, George Jones, Gram Parsons, and Wanda Jackson. This seemed to come out of a thrill with disparate country-influenced contemporary artists: Uncle Tupelo, the Replacements, Geraldine Fibbers, Joe Henry, and Social Distortion. Freakwater, perennially compared to the Carter Family, were one of the favorite underground bands. No one who heard the mixing of Catherine Irwin's and Janet Beveridge Bean's voices could quite help from gushing to others. No one who saw them live could walk away without feeling exhausted by the band's output. They howled, played, and drank as if they had started living the lives of the desperate characters they so often sang about. The shows seemed to last a fortnight, in the best way possible.
More than a decade later and times have changed, as they are wont to do. A backlash against the questionable sincerity of songs about mill workers, slaves, murderers, and the murdered coming from middle-class twentysomethings with their Pumas, punk rock records, and Japanese cars seemed to undo much of the romanticism. Electronic music in all its forms and the ongoing pushing of the envelope by hip-hop helped to erode the mountain of people who had the name "Roy Acuff" written on a scrap of paper (titled "Stuff to Buy") in their wallets.
Freakwater, though, has prevailed. Thinking of You... is their seventh release in a sixteen-year existence, and their first in six long years. Is there an audience for this? Well, there should be. Their vocals sound as amazing as they always have. It's a truly satisfying sound, those voices mingling in the midst of a song. Thinking of You... is an homage to a different time, and that's not such a bad thing to consider. On the surface, there may not seem to be much for today’s listener to relate to, but Freakwater's music speaks in allegory and dark fables. They enjoy taking their time with a story. The music is atmospheric without dipping into the drama of gothic. Tim Rutili's production is precise without becoming too cute or pandering to a time period.
The criticisms against this particular contemporary genre are understandable. Freakwater themselves took a step away with their last release, 1999's great End Time. But, as the world careens in so many new directions at once, it is a comfort to hear something so rooted in a tradition. Thinking of You... is a solid release with at least two songs that should be widely heard, no matter where your music preferences lie ("Buckets of Oil" and "Double Clutch"). Beyond that it's fair to admit that Freakwater are surely anachronistic and not for everyone. That, however, becomes the draw.
Reviewed by: Jill LaBrack
Reviewed on: 2005-12-13