One of the cool things about writing for the Aquarian is that you get to hear a lot of really great music that doesn’t always surface in the usual commercial channels. New Jersey’s Freddie Fry fits right into that class with an unpretentious rock and roll style that might be more at home somewhere out in California than down here on the Jersey Shore. He isn’t plugged into the local hero squadron and prefers to roam deep outside the boardwalk territory in his own solitary Howard Hughes sector. Even if you’ve bumped into Fry on the street, you probably wouldn’t recognize the man or the skill he brings to the table.
Freddie Fry is a walking encyclopedia of hard knocks, famous friends, and the good, the bad, and the ugly that makes up this industry. He’s had the outrageous fortune to back iconic players such as Otis Rush and James Cotton while gigging alongside legendary greats such as Jimmy Johnson, Johnny Winter, The Muddy Waters band, A.C. Reed and many others too numerous to mention.
Fry is also known as the “go-to guy” for guitar players both local and famous, doing gear acquisition (he can find just about any guitar you want) and has also done pre-production stints for Lenny Kravitz as well as working per diem with the illustrious Tom Petty and axe man Mike Campbell.
In-between pushing buttons and hustling six strings, he still finds the time to cut his own original sides (some of it on actual Beatles sound gear) with the likes of Peter Myers, Charles Giordano (Bruce Springsteen, Hall and Oates) Mike Daly (Whiskeytown) and Andy Burton (Ian Hunter.)
His latest release is titled Highway Brides and demonstrates the playing, singing and writing skills that fall squarely into the golden valley of early 1970s Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton, and Dave Mason. He has the great fortune to have an immediately likeable voice powered by mellow, mid ranged pleasantries and a lyrical insight that throws the same weight as the stone David smacked Goliath with. Frye isn’t a showboat on any of his music and instead takes the background role of director, guitarist and songwriter, leaving the spotlight to the gaggle of A-list musicians that play on his projects.
Recorded analog on two-inch tape, Highway Brides features at least three producers, including John P. Allen, Anthony Krizan (Christine Martucci, Spin Doctors) and Doug Conroy (B.B. King, Lenny Kravitz, John Spencer Blues Band) and a whopping 18 cuts.
Standout highlights are the CD title track, “Highway Brides,” a bouncing bluegrass-tinged Dylan-meets-Neil Young and has Cat Stevens’ love child adventure. The song sails along with a Woodstock feel and cheddar sharp production. The work of guitarists Fry, Sedesky, and Jacobs dance in and out of Smokey Mountain melodies and water-cooled backing vocals courtesy of K. Pierce.
“Where Do We Go For Love” is number two on this platter and easily one of the best cuts on the CD. Guitar work by Kenny Sedesky is powerful here. Summoning the melodic aural vibe of Robin Trower and Drew Abbott (Bob Seger,) Sedesky’s soul toned Stratocaster lines fly high over gorgeous and soulful backing vocals courtesy of Miss M’Lynda Simms and lead lines ala Fry, who gets as close to Clapton-esque stature as he dares with his easy, breezy phrasing. This is the kind of stuff that makes me shake my head and hope to god that people will reach out and listen to new music.
“Take Me Home” features guest vocalist and songwriter extraordinaire Tommy Fuller. Fuller’s soprano range stands out immediately. Think Dennis DeYoung from Styx and you might be fairly close to his bell-clear tone. This Renaissance man only adds genuine road grit to the project at hand. The Hammond B3 in the background downshift this mellow serenade into a summertime rock and roll stroll along the Ventura beaches of Cali.
Lynda Kady is another guest vocalist on this project and lends a beautiful take on “Beautiful World,” a mid-tempo ballad that slips and slides down the rabbit hole, reminding me of the dream expressionism of Annie Haslam and her stint with Renaissance.
Freddie Fry goes it alone on “The Word,” trading in the band for acoustic guitar, microphone and voice, getting way out on the John Prine limb and loving every second of it. Fry’s compositional sensibility is sound and emotionally seasoned. I like the fact that Fry doesn’t look to any blueprint when doing his thing. The sense that he doesn’t care if a major label knocks on his door gives this whole project an air of freedom.
Tommy Fuller is back on the Mississippi credo of “Pour.” Slide guitars and half-time drums dodge spring-loaded acoustic strums as Fuller “pours” it on thick and soulful here. Not much to do but sit back, pop the tab on a cold beer and watch the gators out in back of the shack.
“Moonshine And Jesus” puts Fry back in the vocal chair and everyone else out in the tobacco fields, harvesting banjo riddle jags, snare, and stick double taps and two-step barn dance bass. As good of a hoedown as you get, it’s hard to believe that people in Georgia think they can laugh at us Jersey corn pone pickers. We’re just as good as any southern man, and after all, a northern man doesn’t need them around anyhow.
The one oddball standout on the disk is “All That You Feel,” once again sung by Lynda Kady and curiously mismatched to the rest of the disc. Fry explained to me that this pretty much got added due to the performance, and I can agree with that. The eclectic Kate Bush/Portishead feel blends eerie organs and synthesizers underneath darkly EQ’d robo-drums and visions of The Peppermint Lounge circa 1985.
The hazy instrumental bliss of “Coral Blues” stretches under the precarious weight of Fry’s greasy resonator licks. The drums come in on sparse steps as Fry’s grungy old lines slide lazily into the bottom end bass of producer Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors) probably me second favorite tune on here, this instrumental says a lot in a rich, but minimal way.
With most tunes logging in at four or five minutes, you’re looking at over an hour of real down home music on Highway Brides. Truth be told, Freddie Fry has some moves most kids on the scene couldn’t duplicate if they had a genie. If you’re a songwriter, musician or aspiring rock star, take a moment to find this guy and talk to him.
Fry himself says of this disc, “To me this record combines the art, music, passion and poetry of friendship. It is a blessing to have all these people come around and be part of this. Guys like Fuller, Kenny Sedesky, and Peter Meyers are just a blessing to have here, as are Lynda Kady, K. Pierce, and Miss M’Lynda Simms. Basically for me it’s always about fun. Even if it’s a down song, I’m all about just making this part of life something fun that we’ll remember for a long time. Like Lester (Les Paul) always said, have fun doin’ what you.”
Take advantage of the experience that artists like this are willing to give away for free from the mind of a guy that has lived the tall tales, surfed the waves of rock star status and turned it all into some top shelf American music. For more info head over to freddiefry.com.