Every once in awhile it’s fun to shuffle through the promo pile in search of an album that explores the good ole days of rock—and by “good ole days,” I mean old-man Steely D days. Even when it’s done shittily, the outcome triggers special memories of sitting around listening to the godfathers of heavy metal and hard rock on shiny black “frisbees” (as we use to call them), watching them spin ’round and ’round, giving off those signature crackles, pops, and dynamics of Black Sabbath, Blue Öyster Cult, Led Zeppelin, Thin Lizzy, and UFO. Even though I was born around the time many of these bands faded from the limelight, I became so infatuated with the roots of my favorite ’80s metal bands that I bought up as many fifty-cent, fucked-over, scratched-up classics I could find. Last year my journey into olde came via Death Alley, this year it’s La Chinga. However, this Vancouver outfit goes even further than Death Alley, ranging from psychedelic Pink Floyd rock to groovin’ ZZ Top blues, mixing Zeppelin with Buffalo and Motörhead with AC/DC (if that ain’t old dude clickbait, I don’t know what is). So, if you’re in the mood for a road trip into the past, buckle up and let the road do the driving.
If there was ever a quintessential road-trip soundtrack, Freewheelin’ is it. Pile-in some of your favorite people, top-off your tank and head out to that mystical world of black pavement, don’t-give-a-fuck, and staccatoed yellow paint. Freewheelin’ was created to set you free, so allow it to do so. Like its self-titled predecessor, Freewheelin’ can be played forward, backward, or entirely at random without losing any of its direction or attitude. The full-band choruses, the overdrive guitars, and the caveman drumming will suck you in so hard you’ll feel like you’re the lead in The Bronx is Burning or The Devil’s Rejects.
If it isn’t apparent yet, you lovers of nothing but the trvest black and death metal might as well stay home. Freewheelin’ ain’t for you. For everyone else, pull up a seat and let the time-warp take hold. “Gone Gypsy” warms up the engines and puts the rubber to the asphalt with an addictive “I gotta keep moving” chorus before finishing off the song with the slogan of the vagabond: “gone gypsy.” Carl Spackler’s vocals hit the windshield like a mix of Chris Cornell and Buffalo‘s Dave Tice; mixing the former’s “gruff” with the latter’s toughness and beauty. Simply put, Spackler’s voice fits the music like a goddamn glove.
For more of those grooves and big-assed choruses, look no further than the addictive “White Witchy Black Magic” and “Stoned Grease Lightnin’.” Both are as simple as it gets, yet as catchy as the seasonal flu. For a little more “umph” and “mmmm,” the chorus and chunky riffs of “War Cry,” the Motörhead-ish “K.I.W.” and AC/DC-esque “Ride On” ought to force the head to bob and the foot to hit the floor. And just in case the pace gets you too deep into a Freewheelin’ state, the mid-paced “Faded Angel” and the mandolin-led, Bob Dylan-meets-Melvins “Mountain Momma” should keep those relaxed eyes from snoozing behind the wheel. But it’s “The Dawn of Man” that stands out above the rest. Rich with ’70s effects and acid-tripped Pink Floyd builds, this slow-mover grows into an epic, ten-minute combination of powerful leads, tough-as-nails vocals, and a full-band chorus that’ll keep you coming back for more.
But the music isn’t the only thing that Freewheelin’ shares with its influences. Every instrument is mixed equally and the dynamics give the record an era feel. The mastering allows the album to breath and every element, from the mandolin of “Mountain Momma” to the Blue Öyster Cult-esque guitar leads and gospel-like chorus of “Gone Gypsy,” to come through with dynamic strength. Freewheelin’ may have been written already, but even in 2016, it’s one hell of a good time. So, if you’re like me and desire the occasional cruise backward in time, Freewheelin’ may be the ride for you [I’m so in! – Steely D].
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: Small Stone