“Scheherazade” – Freakwater

3 stars (out of 5)

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scheherazade-scrollerWhen you list all of the component parts of Freakwater’s sound, it shouldn’t work; it really shouldn’t. There’s a strong current of traditional Appalachian roots running through “Scheherazade” with string band-style  banjo and fiddle  settings and vocal harmonies, but you can pick out Nashville country, sixties psychedelia, surf punk and even gipsy jazz in the mix as well. It’s dissonant at times, with unexpected juxtapositions and an air of brooding menace lurking just under the surface even in the more cheerful songs; even the most upbeat, “Take Me with You” is all about a desire to escape to a perceived better life.

The opening track, “What the People Want” sets the tone for the album with sinister minor key banjo and fiddle interplay and Janet Bean and Catherine Irwin’s signature harmonies; it’s disturbing but strangely hypnotic. There are plenty of traditional elements in Freakwater’s sound; minor keys, ¾ time and traditional instruments, but the album’s defined by the unexpected. The Nashville licks that would normally have a crisp, clean Telecaster sound are scuffed up with a bit of distortion on “Memory Vendor”, which starts its journey as slow country but somehow picks up some gipsy jazz inflections along the way. And surely you didn’t expect a wah-wah guitar and fiddle wig-out on the menacing reworking of “Rock-a-Bye Baby”, “Down Will Come Baby”.

The combination of disparate elements makes the album a challenging proposition, but ultimately rewarding if you’re willing to take the album on its own terms.

“Scheherazade” is out now on Bloodshot Records.

If you want to see Freakwater live, they’re touring the UK and Ireland in October, playing the following places:

Friday October 7                               Oslo, Hackney, London

Sunday October 9                            The Tunnels, Bristol

Tuesday October 11                        The Eagle Inn, Salford

Wednesday October 12                Broadcast, Glasgow

Thursday October 13                      Cluny 2, Newcastle

Friday October 14                            Phil Grimes Pub, Waterford

Saturday October 15                       Cleere’s Bar & Theatre, Kilkenny

Sunday October 16                          Whelan’s, Dublin