Free Again: The “1970” Sessions
Mar 10, 2012 Web Exclusive
The final year of the 1960s was a tumultuous one for Alex Chilton. The group he started singing with at 16 years old, The Box Tops, released its final album, Dimensions, and Chilton, historically frustrated by the outside control over him and his group, decided to quit the band. The decision, of course, paved the way for the seminal Big Star recordings, but Chilton had been writing his own music for years before that band's debut, and by 1969, he was already laying down his own songs at Ardent Studio in Memphis. Free Again collects the tracks Chilton recorded in the months after splitting from The Box Tops, augmenting Ardent's own 1996 release, 1970, with additional unreleased tracks, and mono mixes.
These recordings are lost Chilton gems, a wonderful view of the newly untethered artist, now free to explore his own muse. Free Again is a perfect link between The Box Tops and Big Star, while somehow also containing all the weirdness and eccentricity of Chilton's own solo work. His vocals are a mix of the gravelly husk he so precociously displayed in The Box Tops (check the cheeky funk of "All I Really Want Is Money") and the higher range he used in Big Star ("Every Day As We Grow Closer"). The recordings are a bit of a mish-mash. "Free Again" is loping country-folk, "I Can Dig It" sounds remarkably like Cream, and "The EMI Song (Smile for Me)" is a beautifully tender piano ballad. "I Wish I Could Meet Elvis" is something like psychedelic honky-tonk, and piss-taking covers of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" plus James Brown's "I Got The Feelin'" (here as "Sugar, Sugar/I Got the Feelin'") presage Chilton's own bizarro 1979 solo album, Like Flies on Sherbert.
As for the additional tracks here, "All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain" is a surprising slice of downtrodden folk, with Chilton sharing harmonies with collaborator Terry Manning, and "If You Would Marry Me Babe" is bopping piano pop that sounds like it belongs on Billy Joel's own solo debut, Cold Spring Harbor. Despite it's somewhat all-over-the-place vibe, Free Again is a terrific document of Chilton, free again after The Box Tops and on the road to bigger and better. (www.omnivorerecordings.com)
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