One of the best things about writing live music reviews are those gigs when you encounter a new artist who , to coin an American phrase from the 1940’s , “knocks your socks off”.
Just such an artist is the outstanding Boston singer and songwriter Alice Howe, who I was fortunate to see tonight at Grateful Fred’s @ The Atkinson , in her very first concert in England.
Just to put the icing on the cake, Alice was joined by her touring partner , co-writer and producer, the legendary bass player Freebo.
Freebo first came to my attention when he appeared with Bonnie Raitt on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1975 . They played “Love Has No Pride” and I was impressed , not only with Feebo’s abilities as a bass-player but also his amazing Afro hairdo. Freebo accompanied Bonnie for ten years and played on her greatest albums ,as well as playing with Crosby,Stills and Nash, Ringo Starr, Dr.John and Neil Young . He has also appeared on The Muppet Show and with Spinal Tap! Quite a CV , I’m sure you will agree.
Alice and Freebo met up at the Folk Alliance conference in 2017 and have gone on to write and tour together , whilst Freebo is producing Alice’s first full-length album “Visions” , which should be released soon.
Opening this evening’s typically eclectic triple bill was Preston singer-songwriter Susie Jones , who may be petite but she has a big voice and a formidable talent as a songwriter ,with impeccably crafted songs ,such as “Road Grows Dim”, “A Matter Of Trust” and “New Year’s Eve”. Accompanied by guitarist Rob , Susie also gave us a lovely arrangement of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” [from the “Desire” album].
Second up were the highly entertaining Liverpool duo The Southbound Attic Band , consisting of Barry Jones and Ronnie Clark. Always good value for money, the Southbounds gave us a hilarious tale of international espionage [“Compromised”] and the poignant “The Ballad of George and Maud”. Barry had also written a song in tribute to Grateful Fred’s , which featured Fred himself on ukulele and kazoo!
And so to the headliners, Alice Howe and Freebo. Right from the opening bars of Alice’s “Homeland Blues” [ a #1 song on the Folk-DJ charts] it was immediately apparent that here is a major new talent. Alice’s voice is pure and clear with hints of the blues, soul and country .
Accompanied by the fluid, melodic bass of Freebo , Alice gave us a tempting foretaste of her forthcoming album with such gems as “Twilight”, “You Just Never Know” , “What We’ve Got Is Gold” and “Still On My Mind”.
In addition to the superb “Homeland Blues” ,we were given a couple of other songs from Alice’s debut EP , the title track “You’ve Been Away So Long” and the touching tribute to her late father “Nothing But You”.
The new album will also feature some covers, of which we had a taster with sublime versions of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” , Taj Mahal’s “Lovin’ In My Baby’s Eyes” and , best of all , a stunning rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case Of You”.
Freebo also had the opportunity to showcase his own songwriting prowess with a slot in which he sang four songs from his excellent solo album “If Not Now When”. These ranged from the reflective “To The Light” [ a co-write with Severin Browne , Jackson’s brother] to the poignant “When There’s No Place Like Home”, to the humorous “She Loves My Dog More Than Me” and culminating in “Standing Ovation” [ “when I die, give me a standing ovation, a celebration for a job well done”].
Talking of standing ovations, this is just what Alice and Freebo deservedly received for such a marvellous performance. As an encore , we were treated to a delightful duet version of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” , a song which Freebo performed many, many times with Bonnie Raitt.
This was a great evening ,with three hours of excellent music from all three acts.
Peter Cowley, Words - Photo by Lauren Desberg
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