I'll Be Your Mule

Steve Freund

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I'll Be Your Mule Review

by Alex Henderson

It is quite appropriate that one of Steve Freund's albums is titled "C" for Chicago. Although the singer/guitarist is a native New Yorker and presently lives in San Francisco, Chicago blues is his specialty. Freund used to live in the Windy City, where he was employed by heavyweights like Sunnyland Slim and Koko Taylor -- and it was where he recorded I'll Be Your Mule in 2000. This CD was produced by guitarist Dave Specter, a bluesman with strong jazz leanings. Specter (who also produced "C" for Chicago) definitely knows his jazz; he could spend hours telling you about the contributions of Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. And because some (though certainly not all) parts of I'll Be Your Mule are jazz-influenced, Specter was the perfect producer for this CD. Freund is especially jazz-minded on B.B. King's "Fine Lookin' Woman," Big Bill Broonzy's "Ramblin' Bill," and the instrumental "Bill Reed's Blues." And yet, he isn't a Jimmy Witherspoon type of artist, or a disciple of Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Freund is an electric Chicago-style bluesman whose roots are Chess Records, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, etc. But that doesn't mean that Freund (who wrote or co-wrote seven of the CD's 13 tracks) can't have some non-Chicago influences. Having a Chicago blues orientation doesn't mean that he can't be influenced by Texas blues (including Albert Collins) or incorporate jazz elements occasionally. Freund doesn't have a great voice -- quite honestly, he's a better guitarist than singer. But he usually gets his points across, and while I'll Be Your Mule isn't a masterpiece, it is a decent and sincere, if derivative, outing.

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