A band that’s been described as a “post-punk Carter Family,” alt-country act Freakwater is set to release their 8th studio album on Feb. 5.
This will no doubt please fans – the band, though together 30 years, has always been on their own recording schedule. Scheherazade, on the Bloodshot record label, is the first album from the group since 2005’s Thinking of You.
That 30 years in the industry hasn’t softened the acerbic lyrics and haunting arrangements that define Freakwater. On tracks like “Missionfield”, the band retains the characteristic harmonies created by Janet Bean’s high, ethereal voice and Catherine Irwin’s deeper, edgier one. Backed only by a strummed electric guitar on this song, the commanding lyrics not only stand out, but also become a thoroughly visceral experience by the time Bean howls them at the end.
Scheherazade’s opening track, “What The People Want,” uses a chugging banjo accompaniment, distorted fiddle and a haunting, off-kilter melody that calls back to the old-time songs of the early 20th century. Meanwhile, songs like “Take Me With You” highlight their distinctive voices, which sound perfect together even though they’re vastly different. The album is full of songs with compelling titles: “Skinny Knee Bone,” “Velveteen Matador” and “Number One With A Bullet” are only some examples.
The lead single, “The Asp And The Albatross” sees Freakwater exploring their country side. Using twangy guitar and echo, the singers trade lines and come together to finish verses with strong harmonies.
Formed in Louisville, Ky. in 1985, Freakwater took its name from the slang term for moonshine whiskey and set to writing songs informed by their obsession with old country acts. The group only consisted of singers Bean and Irwin at the time, who spent hours digging through albums by The Carter Family and The Louvin Brothers, but also brought Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn covers to the stage.
Freakwater eventually became the mysterious darling of the alt-country movement in the 1990s, emerging every so often with astounding albums like End Time (1999) and Old Paint (1995), and then disappearing for indeterminate breaks.
They sit among the best acts of that decade, evoking comparisons to Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris, but really, they were the ones who set the stage for future Americana artists. The group is also celebrated for their refusal to concede to being pushed through the industry machine, instead signing with labels who gave them room to develop naturally.
While Freakwater seems to be on their own schedule, which they attribute to a “lack of any normal human ambition and complete inability to capitalize on the brightest moments of critical acclaim,” the new album is worth the wait. They’ll be heading out on tour in support of Scheherazade starting Feb. 10.