Country Agenda

Alex Bleeker / Alex Bleeker & the Freaks

(LP - Sinderlyn #LYN 009LP)

Review by Timothy Monger

Following his band's breakthrough 2014 LP, Atlas, Real Estate bassist Alex Bleeker revives his solo project Alex Bleeker & the Freaks with the earthy, warmhearted Country Agenda. On his third solo outing, Bleeker solidly finds his footing thanks, in large part, to a more full-time lineup of the Freaks as well as his most rewarding batch of songs yet. His two earlier efforts, the Freaks' self-titled 2009 debut and 2013's How Far Away, were largely made with a rotating cast captained by Bleeker's strong guidance, but for Country Agenda he installed himself within the newly minted band and built the arrangements up collaboratively. It's no secret that Bleeker is an avid follower of the Grateful Dead and the friendly, loose-knit vibes he and his crew chase here owe a strong debt to that band's freewheeling spirit, particularly the Dead's acoustic-oriented early-'70s era of American Beauty and Workingman's Dead. His pleasantly cracked voice is supported by plenty of rich harmonies and the mellow organ and guitar tones give the record an inviting, organic feel. He's also made great leaps forward in terms of fidelity, abandoning the lo-fi haze of his earlier albums to record in the warm analog glory of NorCal's bucolic studio/artist retreat Panoramic House, where the New Jersey-bred Freaks gamely jammed in full view of the Pacific Ocean. The inspired West Coast setting almost feels like another bandmember as it informs tracks like the gentle country shuffle of "California" and the pastoral "Downright Stinson." Country Agenda has no shortage of highlights like the Big Pink-ish "The Rest" and slow-dreaming boogie of "Honey, I Don't Know," but with its easy manner and comforting glow, it's the kind of long-player that is best enjoyed whole, preferably on a leisurely scenic drive.

blue highlight denotes track pick