Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Micki Free ~~ Tattoo Burn-Redux

There’s a restless spirit that lives inside of musician Micki Free. After cutting his teeth on rock and roll, he joined the band Shalamar and appeared with them on two monster soundtracks, Footloose and Beverly Hills Cop. The latter won him a Grammy Award.
From there, he joined forces with Jean Beauvoir to create Crown Of Thorns, a hard-hitting rock band that shook up the 1990’s. After that, he began to explore his Native American roots and released albums of spiritual flute music.
You know, just the average path of a guy who has just released one of the hottest blues albums on 2017. Yeah, right.
Free’s new album on Mysterium Blues Records, Tattoo Burn – Redux, is an album that is difficult to pigeon hole, just like the artist who made it. At its heart is the blues, pure and simple, but there are elements of rock, gospel, and sometimes you can hear some Native American rhythms in the percussion.
Free had some help from some great players on the album. Aside from handling the lead, slide, rhythm guitars and lead vocals, Free also played a little bass. Other musicians include Cindy Blackman-Santana and David “Hawk” Lopez on drums; Bill Wyman, Jack Dailey, Kenny Gradney, and David Santos on bass; Hammond organ played by Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach and Brother Paul Brown with Leach also playing the Fender Rhodes; and Randy Singer on harmonica.
Special guests include Howard Hewett on the lead vocal duet and background vocals on God Is On The Phone; and Cary Bowden on 12-string guitar on Sometimes In Winter.  Backing vocals were provided by Shea, Wendy Moten, Trish Bowden, Hewett, and Free.
The first few funky notes set us up thinking the album is going to go one way, then God Is On The Phone gets going and you realize it’s heading in a different direction. Can we call this a spiritual funk tune? It has a few of the trappings of gospel, primarily with the keyboards, but the guitar is slick funk and they come together in a very satisfying combination.  
Free follows up with the title track, Tattoo Burn, and the opening guitar over drums creates an exciting sound. His music and lyrics put this one square in the blues category. I’m not sure if this is the first blues song to use the tattoo allusion, but it’s the first one I can recall. It adds a new territory to explore. Good song, I think it’ll end up with some airplay.
Free dedicates the album to his mother, Delores Marie, especially for her “glorious greens and barbecue.” So, it’s only fitting that he pens a song called Greens & Barbecue. It’s a slow burning blues song and Free and company are in total control, both of the music and the vocals. I like this one a lot.
That slow burn keeps coming with Six Feet Down In The Blues. This is easily one of the best tracks on the album. It’s tight, and Free’s voice hits every emotion without becoming overblown. I could see this one being a hit for any number of great blues artists who have come before and I think it will stand up among the very best for some time to come. Airplay? That’s a given.
The next song, Mojo Black Coffee, has got a great title and starts off with a true blues riff. I know at least one person who shares my house for whom this song will become their mantra. I’ve learned not to speak until that first cup of coffee has been downed. Sounds like Free is in that same boat. It’s a clever song and the music is as strong as a 32-ounce cup of deep Black Insomnia! That’s the strongest coffee I’ve found to date, if you have another, please let me know so I can share it with Mrs. Professor!
He follows up with the mellower Co-Co-Gin, which has a nice throwback sound. Free’s guitar is good, but he’s reigned it in a little in favor of the keyboards. His vocals are softer, but the story is still as strong as they come. I think by now, Free has got me firmly in his corner. He’s mixed in a few styles, but his heart is entrenched in the blues and he does a great job with them.
There’s A Hole In The Heart Of The Blues starts off with some heavy rock and a scorching guitar riff. Once again, I was thinking that the song would go one way and Free takes off another. This one may be a little heavy for the blues purists, but for those who like their blues dipped in rock, this is going to be one of their favorites.
Next up is Angels In The Room, and Free is back to the slow controlled burn of a master bluesman. I’m not sure who is providing the backing vocals for this number, but she has a great voice. Free does some good slide work and the percussion is solid. It’s a good song, and on a lesser album would probably be a standout.
The one cover on the album is Jimi Hendrix’ Hey Baby (The New Rising Sun) (remix). The artist that first made Free want to become a musician was Hendrix, so it’s only fitting that he include a cover and homage to the man. You can hear a lot of Hendrix’ influence in the way Free plays guitar, but that can be said of many guitarists. It’s finding that heart that Hendrix had that’s the tough part. I think Free’s spirituality comes through in many of his songs, and not just lip service to the spirit. Free faces the dark as well as the light and recognizes that both are part of this life.
There’s some hard rocking that opens Five Minutes Till Christmas. This is one that will be getting a ton of airplay come the holiday season. It’s a solid number with some clever lyrics, and it hasn’t been played to death previously. Free released this as a single to radio stations last Christmas and it was a welcome addition. Santa Blues is going to add this one to his playlist…
Free closes the album with Sometimes In Winter, which features Bowden on 12-string guitar. It’s a mellower sound with some very churchy organ opening with some good guitar riffs filling in. I love the choir of backing voices that lift the song up and over the norm. It’s a fitting ending and a lush song.
Free’s songwriting impressed me a lot. True he’s a hell of a guitar player and his vocals are nothing to sneeze at, but even a good voice and a great guitar can’t elevate a bad song. There’s really not a bad song in the bunch, although a few songs may be too heavily rock oriented for some, but there’s no way to please the entirety of a large group of blues lovers.
I will be watching to see what direction(s) Free’s music might take from this point on. He’s explored rock, he’s explored his Native American heritage with albums of traditional music, and here he’s dropped a pretty damn good blues album. I have a feeling that he will continue to mix these different styles as they are all a part of his musical DNA.

Be sure to find your way to his website to see what other people have said about Free and check out his earlier recordings and his touring plans. I can’t wait to catch this cat live somewhere down the road. If you see him first, drop me a line here and let me know how you liked it.

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