Freddy Fender

Rock 'n' Country

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Expect the unexpected from Freddy Fender, who starts off an album entitled Rock 'n' Country with a version of "Vaya con Dios," which is quite a bit neither. He then proceeds through a series of numbers that if sung by a vocal group would be considered doo wop, at least an early form of rock & roll, given here a Houston-style R&B treatment in which the lead guitarists come up with blues licks in one place and busy jazz embellishments in another. It all works, as do the many touches courtesy of legendary producer Huey P. Meaux -- he really knows how to use female voices with Fender, never settling for a stock approach. Of course, when it comes to vocalizing, the star of the show provides the producer with a rich platform for staging. Less than ten minutes into the side and Fender has sung the word "each" as perfectly as the painter Vermeer would paint a plum into a bowl of fruit. Then again, maybe it is the touch of reverb Meaux utilizes that makes it sound that way. This album was obviously created over a series of sessions -- either that or the rhythm section guys were playing tag team. Not much use is made of pedal steel for a supposedly country dude, but there are brass, organ, and lots of guitars. In the latter department there always seems to be something up someone's sleeve, including terrific twin leads on "Just Out of Reach," and fuzz box, twangy single-string harmonies, and choppy near-reggae rhythm elsewhere. Of course, Fender was part of the whole movement establishing that there was more than one sound to country music. Even Hank Williams (one of his slow songs, of course) comes out sounding completely different, and the spoken introduction to this number is a deeply sincere moment. The fastest tempo on an album that mentions rock aggressively in its title would have to be the shuffle on "Big Boss Man," yet another break from the tried and true Nashville menu of alternating fast and slow beats. This album is as individualistic an example of Fender as any, although there are others in which the songs are stronger and the production a trifle less nervous. As good as Meaux is, he fades out numbers several times when there was more juice in the performances.

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