Freeman

Freeman

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If ever a band seemed bound by blood it was Ween, the alt-rock refugees from New Hope, Pennsylvania. Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo went so far as to present themselves as brothers, calling themselves Gene and Dean Ween and, like so many siblings, they shared a vernacular, an iconography, and a sense of humor. So strong did this bond seem that when Freeman decided to walk away from the band in 2012, just as the duo approached its 25th anniversary, it came as a heavy blow. In interviews, Freeman made it plain that he chose to leave Ween so he could preserve his newly found sobriety, a sentiment that's underscored by 2014's Freeman, his first collection of original material since the band's breakup (which also happens to be his first record of new tunes since 2007's La Cucaracha). The album opens up with "Covert Discretion," an unveiled recounting of his well-documented on-stage breakdown in Vancouver, the pivotal moment on his path toward recovery. He concludes the song with a rousing "F*** you all/I've got a reason to live," a profane self-affirmation that could be read as a jab at hardcore fans of all things Boognish, but Freeman is hardly a repudiation of Ween. Freeman re-enlists producer Christopher Shaw, who helmed 2000's White Pepper, and he continues the duo's "Stallion" saga with "The English and Western Stallion," making two explicit connections to the past that emphasize how Freeman isn't a break from the past. Melchiondo's absence is evident -- in Ween parlance, this isn't as "brown," meaning it isn't as vulgar, noisy, or funny -- but Freeman often plays as part of the continuum Freeman began way back with GodWeenSatan. There are rough edges and detours -- the galumphing worldbeat dip on "Black Bush," the faux-blues denouement of "I Know a Girl" -- hints of prog ("El Shaddai," "Golden Monkey"), and a bit of guitar grind ("Gimme One More") that are balanced by a rich melodicism and an ever-present humor, all things firmly within Freeman's wheelhouse, but the feel of the album is quite new: it's soft and warm; sometimes elegiac and sweet. Often, Freeman recalls McCartney, both the songwriter and the album, and the allusions are intentional. Paul shook off the Beatles without renouncing them, providing a road map that Freeman follows by letting himself indulge his whims while reconnecting to the kind of songwriting at the root of his music. If anything, Freeman is a tighter record than McCartney -- it's not homemade, it's all complete songs -- but there's no denying it shares the same spirit; that it is the sound of breaking dawn of a new day.

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