Freakwater‘s messed-up but glorious harmonies have always been the key to their sound, and if they suggested the lost members of the Carter Family far gone on cheap booze on 1995’s Feels Like the Third Time,
they still sound essentially the same way 21 years down the line, which
only points to the bent timelessness of their body of work. 2016’s Scheherazade may be the first album in over a decade from Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean,
but the dour yet perceptive storytelling of their lyrics and the wobbly
sincerity of their vocals suggest no more than a few months passed
between 2005’s Thinking of You and this set. From the grim abuse of “What the People Want” to the homey but troubling visions of “Ghost Song,” Freakwater
leave no doubt they’re still living in the same fallen world that’s
always been their home, and they evoke a difficult past and a similarly
blighted present while facing it all with the quirky grin of a confirmed
cynic. Freakwater themselves haven’t changed, but Scheherazade does find them working with a different supporting cast; while their previous albums were all cut in Chicago, Scheherazade was recorded in Freakwater‘s native Louisville, Kentucky, with a team of players that includes Warren Ellis from the Dirty Three, James Elkington from Tweedy and Eleventh Dream Day, and Evan Patterson of Young Widows on guitar, as well as Freakwater‘s longtime bassist David Wayne Gay.
The arrangements have more of a dreamlike lean than the more
Appalachian approach of their earlier work, but ultimately the music
serves the songs and vocal performances on Scheherazade, and does so beautifully. Scheherazade isn’t exactly the Feel Good Album of 2016, but being lost and forsaken with Freakwater is a more satisfying experience than feeling perky with most other acts, and Scheherazade is a brilliant reminder of what Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean do so strikingly well.
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