A little more than a year ago, Jack Freeman, a magnetic underground R&B singer, released an EP called Dark Liquor. Here's what was written about it here in this space at the time:
"It is, in short, excellent; six songs saturated with heart and sexiness and allure and magnetism. If it's indicative of what Freeman will be able to do on a full-length album, consider him to have just leapfrogged a whole heap other local artists in terms of national recognition potential."
Last week, the album arrived. And holy crap.
The album is called Lynnie Free's Juke Joint. (Jack's real name is Jackie, his middle name is Lynn, thus Lynnie). It was produced by Free of The Niceguys, Jett. I. Masstyr, Freeman and Chris Rockaway, names that will read as TV show characters to most but as talented producers to those familiar with the underground hip-hop in Houston.
The only guest feature is a drizzly verse from motormouth Yves (also from The Niceguys). This would seem to imply that he (a) is not friends with very many people, or (b) believes himself capable of carrying an entire project. Either way, it's appealing.
The album's narrative is a tangle of plot points, but almost all of them spiral back towards something a women has done, will do or should do. He does this fluidly, and that's good, but he almost always makes it sound interesting and sincere, and that's fantastic. The most attractive example: "Slow Dance," which begins with a slurred, slowed down version of Freeman singing, producing an entirely quixotic, absurdly visceral bit of musicianship. It is at once contemporary and traditional.
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Freeman is a capable singer, but he is most brilliant when he lets loose the bottom-of-the-abdomen tenor in his voice and moves forward briskly. He does so several times on the album, most enjoyably at the beginning of "Struggles," a 2:02 burst of neo soul drums and funk and arguably the best song he's ever made, and for the duration of closer "Juke Joint," a real, actual blues song.
There are handfuls of things Freeman does well on LFJJ, and one could spend 2,000 words discussing them, but the central idea is clear:
It immediately sounds like one 2011's best pieces of music, and a lot like he decided he wanted people to start calling his name when they discussed the country's best R&B acts.
Download the album on iTunes now. It is also available here via Bandcamp.