I have a direct fear of Jack Freeman's music, for a very good reason.
I have spoken to Freeman on numerous occasions. He's a charming, engaging, witty individual. He has watched his peculiar thoughts on certain topics — whether it be race and the Grammys or the NCAA's unpaid student athletes — become more famous than his music. To a fault, people have bought into Jack Freeman the sage more than Jack Freeman the singer. That may be the safest thing imaginable. Because Jack Freeman songs equate to nothing but 1,000 considerable thoughts that all rake across your mind at the same time.
You see, Jack Freeman makes “cognac music." You may think of that as a form of the blues, an R&B so potent in hurt and wronged feelings that you immediately own those feelings as if they were your own. They transform you. You throw on a Freeman record and immediately see a bottle of Jack Daniel's appear at your feet, a glass in your hand, as your mind glosses over old photos of your ex. It is never a good idea to throw on his music unless you feel like walking through seven separate scenes of a relationship, both good and bad.
Remember, two years ago that Freeman teamed with producer Chris Rockaway for Spotless Mind: Side A. It was a suite, a 7-track EP on which Freeman echoed different facets of his mind. There’s the warbled staccato from old D’Angelo on “Lay With You” and Freeman grooving into the side of R&B that made his Lynnie’s Juke Joint album a pretty fun ride. “I’m Through" carried away a dying relationship with the strength of John Henry. “Slow Dance” gave the Houston singer a more than capable track to perform from here to eternity. In his world, the music can be fun. It can even be pretty, but he'll be damned if it doesn’t mean something.
And if Freeman's material rings in thoughts of heartbreak and flames gone awry, then so be it. Spotless Mind: Side B carries on what Side A started in that it’s seven different suites, both old and new, to wrap your mind around. "Nobody" still clobbers around as a heady R&B record that professes love from a vulnerable place; Chris Rockaway’s confident drum and guitar work still police not only emotions but ideas of sticking to love. Freeman is willing to experiment, whether it be through bossy hip-hop cuts with Sean Falyon, DeLorean and Yves. He’s also able to work around these scaled-down, guitar-soaked melodies such as “50 First Dates” and the vibrant Side B opener, “Hey Lady."
I have an abject fear of Jack Freeman’s music because I’ve been there. I’ve waddled through a potential breakup that turned into actual breakup. I’ve envisioned plenty of women walking in and out of my life and head à la The Pharcyde’s “Passin Me By." I’ve borne an empty stomach and wrecked nights of tossing and turning because of a woman I was in love with. In a way, that’s what R&B music, especially music created from personal spaces, is supposed to do. It’s supposed to drag you to your own version of The Sunken Place to ultimately deal with it all. The squelchy synths that comb over “Passing You By” ball and parlay into a head-nodding two-step. Freeman isn’t swearing off love, but he’s playing close outsider to every woman who has placed unobtainable, high standards on a relationship without noticing her own flaws.
The high-water mark of love on Side B is found with “Hey Lady” and then “Nobody." There’s a lustful moment with “Afterparty” and then a slow, understandable descent into breakup territory. By the time all of the blues and live guitars splash on “Traveling,” Freeman has packed up his bags and left her baggage in the same room. The man just wanted to make love one last time because he knew they weren’t compatible. His greatest influence is Donny Hathaway, yet his blues on “Traveling” pick up the piano melody from Gil Scott-Heron’s “My Way Home” and dare them to come chase him out of town. “I don’t need your shit where I’m going,” he emphatically sings.
And that's where Side B concludes, in a sporadic, call-it-how-you-feel riff where horns, drums and a trusty axe are asked to carry you to your next destination. In Freeman’s words, this EP was supposed to have been out; the fight for its release is the reason records from two years ago show up. But they still resonate. In terms of Houston singers who can capitalize on the depressing aspects of watching love slip away, there’s Freeman and then there's everyone else.
Choose your drinking partners accordingly.
SONGS YOU SHOULD HEAR
Washed-out R&B is a fun thing to tinker with. Jonquel had my attention about a month ago with "Shoot The Messenger/Go Down." Now, "DontLetItGoToWaste" takes all the fast-forwarded distortion of a love affair and drops it a pitch toward the very end. "All we have is the fight," he sings repeatedly. Guess he's holding on to love like we all are.
ROE, "Creep (Love You Long Time)"
One of the more persistent concepts of time is dualism, the battle between malevolent ideals and benevolent ideas. And as a concept, dualism is persistent in R&B sex jams because of the literal mention of give and take. Thanks to Janet and a host of others, we arrive at ROE's interpretation of a slow jam, a bass-guitar knocker that is more TLC than Radiohead. In a crowded field of dank, sullen female emerging R&B acts, she has my attention in regards to having next.
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