I’ve known Freddie Fry for several years now, and if there’s one thing I can say with certainty, it’s that he loves music and supports the national and local scene every chance that he can. This is a guy who has scads of stories to tell about some of the rock and roll’s biggest names. He was there years back and continues to associate with some large names in the entertainment industry. As I was getting ready to review his latest CD, I noticed that rock icon Ed King (one of the founding members of The Strawberry Alarm Clock and a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd who co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama” amongst other songs) had great things to say about Freddie and his music on his Facebook page. I follow Ed and know that he rarely goes out on a limb to push someone’s music. It’s just usually not his thing.
That’s a real mind blower when you think about it. Here’s this local guy, goes to shows, hangs out and has the ego of a church mouse and guys that wrote some of the world’s biggest songs are praising him for his talents. But that’s Freddie Fry’s MO. Humble and filled with knowledge, the guy is an actual talent with a lot to say and almost no means to get it across. With the situation of today’s flagging music business, it’s a hard row to hoe when it comes to getting your music in front of the right people and listeners in general. But so far, his latest CD, Thirsty Rider, is getting a real push from friends within the industry and folks online.
The CD was produced by industry superstar Marc Muller. Just in case you don’t recognize that name, Muller is famous for his guitar work with Shania Twain and he spent over 13 years with the legendary Mutt Lange. Freddie himself says of Mark, “He has an innate way of tapping into you and knowing what you really want. It became a simple process, me laying down my hillbilly vibe and him embellishing it and coming up with the same thing I heard in my head. It’s the best studio experience I’ve ever had. It was as if he heard all the bands I trekked into the Fillmore to see and heard in my head, and then he pulled it into what we have now. And trust me when I say I couldn’t be happier with the outcome.”
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the songs on Thirsty Rider, the folks that are involved and the magic that makes Freddie so very happy to be a relatively sane operator in this crazy entertainment field called music.
The very first song up is called “Rabbit.” I immediately liked the chord choices for this song. If you’re a fan of guys like Dave Mason you’re gonna love “Rabbit.” Fry’s vocals are smooth and reminiscent of the late ’60s. Backing vocals come courtesy of Marc Muller and are extremely complementary to Freddie’s velvety and laid back vocal charge. Muller also takes charge of electric guitars and lays down some excellent pentatonic brilliance from within. If you’re a fan of guys like Earl Slick and Rick Derringer, you’re gonna love the playing on “Rabbit.” Fry’s lyrics are part imagery, part real life. He deftly mixes the two into one coherent presentation for his listeners. The choruses are right where they should be and meld well with verses and intricate bridge work. Rhythms are powerful and done to perfection. Fry handles acoustic guitars like a champ and everything moves as it should. You can’t go wrong for a first song on a record when it’s this good.
Next up is “Forgotten.” Fry kicks things off with his acoustic picking style and vocal vibe as Muller hits all the ear candy with his jazzy vibe. Pianos and B3 come courtesy of Andy Burton (Ian Hunter, Cyndi Lauper, and John Mayer). Once again, Fry weaves a potent tapestry of compositional elegance. I love the breathy space that encompasses this song. Part jam, part ethereal hymn to the gods, “Forgotten” is anything but. Another musical winner in my humble book.
“Out of Time” features the melodic vocal guesting of Emily Grove. Grove has long been a favorite of mine in all her intense solo work, and she shines just as bright on this tune. From the very first note of the intro to the verses and choruses, Fry’s songwriting expertise glows like the full harvest moon. While Grove handles the interpretation of the lyrics, Muller handles all the percussion, organ work and electric guitar as Freddie glides in on acoustic wings throughout. Muller’s background vocals meld perfectly with Grove’s honey-smooth vocal lead. Production-wise, “Out of Time” is seamless and pleasing to the ear. This is a perfect vehicle for Grove and choosing her was a wise decision to make a great song really shine brightly.
“Door” features Freddie on banjo. Shore legend Tommy Fuller handles background vocals with the able assist of Erica Muller. Marc plays some bodacious electric guitar in the bridge. Mideastern by nature, his tone is godlike and really ties the song together. Freddie may not be the top banjo picker in the country but his playing is solid, and he gets the job done with the class to spare. Marc also handles all the bass and drum work here, and it’s a perfect match for Fry’s old school musical sensibilities.
“Hole in the Moon” is all Freddie and Marc. Fry handles acoustic guitars while Muller mans the rhythm tracks and electric guitars. This is yet another song that impresses me with the compositional directive. I’m a huge fan of Fry’s chord choices, and he layers them from verse to bridge to the chorus with a delicate perfection that reminds me of later George Harrison and his style of writing. Muller’s bass playing is solid and blends with his drumming to shore Fry’s individual parts and overall song. Electric guitars scream and whine as slide work slips down the spine of this complex and intricate tune.
I also wanted to get to the disc’s namesake before I run out of time. “Thirsty Rider” features Freddie on guitar while Muller slips in on dobro and mandolin. Fry takes his turn at the electric, hawking dirty, fingered chords while he sings his ode to that parched rider on an endless road. Freddie is a master guitarist, blending gritty chords with pedal steel-like bends while Muller grinds grungy fuzz bass over the backend.
Thirsty Rider is part of what I consider to be a dying breed. Real music pulled from the soul and leveled at listeners looking for a real emotional connection instead of something simply lauded to be the next big thing on the charts. And while Thirsty Rider excels at being music that can compete with much on the current scene today, it also covers solid ground as a disc that shines a combination of the past and the present from a writer who has seen so much and still retains his memories with class and proverbial style.
Do yourself a favor and buy this CD. If musical gurus like Ed King think that it’s a worthy piece of vinyl, believe me when I say that you’ll be just as impressed as he is and maybe more so. I happen to think it’s one of the best CDs to come across my desk this year.