There is a naïveté to John Cate's first album, entitled Set Free, that escapes many groups, and it is this charm that makes songs like "Phoenix" and "Wire in the Wind" extra special. As disc jockey Ken Shelton says in the liner notes, "When I listen to the music of the John Cate Band, I hear a lot of familiar voices," and you'll hear the echoes of John Cafferty of Beaver Brown and Sal Baglio of the Stompers, bands that found inspiration in Springsteen and Neil Young. You'll hear those influences, but the imprints of Set Free have Cate's vision of life, and his lyrical perspective is much different from all of the above. There's a pensive reading of "American Night" that would become the title of an acoustic album released after this in 1998, the mandolin from Paul Candilore just one reason why Candilore is the secret weapon in Cate's arsenal. It sounds like the exact take from the American Night album, but that's OK, as it is a strong song and a fine presentation. "Six Chances" rocks out fine with a fury often displayed by the singer's colleagues, the Swinging Steaks. "Last Train Home" and "Temptation" have more of the "American music" sound, which is Cate's home and what he does best. When John Cougar Mellencamp attempts to play Lou Reed it is second rate, but Cate successfully gets that Reed vamp down on "Temptation"; it's more serious than Mellencamp, probably because one gets the feeling Cate hasn't studied Reed and this is from the singer's own experience. "Phoenix" is a standout that you'll keep coming back to, as you'll want to give second and third looks to Set Free, an album by an artist whose evolution keeps unfolding in interesting ways. And it's nice to see local figure Laurie Geltman helping out on backing vocals.
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AllMusic Review by Joe Viglione