The Portland Phoenix
October 4 - 11, 2001

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Freed at last

A debut that speaks of great potential

By Josh Rogers

Jeremiah Freed play CD-release shows at the Stonecoast (21+), (207) 773-2337, Oct. 6, and at the Skinny (all ages), (207)

JEREMIAH FREED: Nick Goodale, Joe Smith, Matt Cosby, Kerry Ryan, and Jake Roche.

Their SAT scores were in, the campuses had been visited, the applications sent away, and all five members of Jeremiah Freed had been accepted to college. And then J. T. McNaboe and Bill Beasley of Ripchord Artist Management were offering them a deal: Stay in Portland, write and record an album, play some shows, and hopefully become rock ‘n’ roll stars. Not just a pipe dream — this could really happen — Ripchord helped propel Rustic Overtones to the position they now hold. It didn’t take any of them long to make a decision; Matt Cosby, bassist for Jeremiah Freed sounds shocked that it could have ever been a question, “There’s no way we were going to school when we had management!”

Together since sophomore year of high school, Jeremiah Freed began the way you’d imagine any high school band to wobble into existence: playing covers of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Freebird.”

For them, that’s not a past to be ashamed of. When asked what they listened to when recording their eponymous debut album (which comes out October 4), the Freed reply, “The Who,” “Pink Floyd and Oasis,” “Neil Young,” “The Black Crowes.” The few bands they listed that weren’t classic rock idolized the era themselves. It makes sense, then, that they roped in veteran producer Beau Hill for work on their first three singles.

Besides doing some session keyboard work for Dylan and Clapton, Hill was all over the pop hair scene in the ‘80s — Alice Cooper, Europe, Kix, Ratt, Twisted Sister, Winger, and Warrant’s Cherry Pie, no less. More recently, though, Hill has leant his skills to the likes of Dweezil Zappa and Bad Brains. Hill brings his experience to bear, melding the monster riff that breaks open the first song on the album, “How it all Got Here,” perfectly to the rest of the anthemic Modern Alternative Rock workout.

It’s true, the first couple of listens finds the band occupying a dangerously superfluous alt-rock throwaway status. Joe Smith, the man with the vocal pipes, suggests that this is exactly what they tried to avoid doing. “We didn’t want to make a timely, disposable album — we wanted to make something timeless.” They may want to distance themselves from the top 40 alternative chart, but when I was listening to their disc the other day at work, my officemate said, “Are you listening to the radio?” mildly confused.

“We didn’t try to jump on any bandwagon,” Smith asserts. Could be true — but they weren’t necessarily thinking outside the box, either. Still, hiding underneath some of the clichéd pop moves on the album, there runs a solid ribbon of independent thinking. Rhythm guitarist Jake Roche often lays down soulful bluesy riffs reminiscent of Gov’t Mule, while master shredder Nick “born in the wrong decade” Goodale stays true to his roots: Lynyrd Skynyrd everywhere. The consistency of the chunky blues stomps and Southern boogie rock licks could potentially synthesize into something that doesn’t sound like everything on WCYY circa 1996.

But they’re not there yet. At the end of the day, these kids are still fresh out of high school; they listen to mainstream rock, they write songs about bad relationships, the back cover of their album is a picture of them loading equipment into the back of their Ford Econoline. Their scope is narrow. Radiohead started off that way, too, but they stayed together through school and grew into something far beyond what the good parts of Pablo Honey suggested they could be. The Freed won’t be making electronic glitch-noise five years from now, but they could become a distinctive voice in the mainstream rock world.

That’s where Spencer Albee comes in. Albee, Rustic’s keyboardist and frontman for the Popsicko, helped vary their sound a bit with the album’s standout track, “Wait for Me.” Kerry Ryan, the Freed’s drummer kicks it off with an upbeat tom, snare, woodblock combo. Then, Goodale’s honeyed lead e-bows its way into the mix in one of the catchiest coups on disc this year. The chorus gets a little darker with some vocal consternation and gloomy lyrics, but pulls through at the end of the chorus with a new lead line cut whole from “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and deliciously glam backing vocals.

Overall, Jeremiah Freed comes off as a somewhat disaffected meditation on painful relationships. Though the songs sound vaguely like they’re directed to a friend or a lover, it’s important to note that Smith dedicated the record to his father, Charlie, who passed away from cancer last Spring. With that in mind, the depressing lyrics have a richness that goes beyond basic love songs.

Track after track finds Smith “tired of waiting,” “waiting so long,” resigned to wait “another day.” The horrible emotional drain that comes when waiting for the inevitable is revealed on “Can’t Live,” one of the bleakest songs on the album, it paints th§ singer in a suffocating environment: “I can’t live like this anymore/waiting my whole damn life/and I’m tired . . . I cannot think/I cannot breathe/I cannot dream.”

But there is strength to be found here. In “Hold On,” Smith describes a scene between him and another speaker. His father? “You say to ‘hold on’ to me/And I know that I’m better off if I do/So hold on/Just hold on/Hold on.” Smith reverses the advice that he’s received. He transforms himself from the person in need to the support on which to lean.

Jeremiah Freed have a long way to go and a lot more experience to gain before they’ll make a truly “timeless” album. But they might just have the patience to wait.

Josh Rogers can be reached at jrogers@phx.com.

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