Do you ever listen to an album once or twice and have trouble deciding exactly how you feel about it? Well this happens to me especially when I am listening to an album from an artist that I have not really heard before or it is a sound that I am not accustomed to hearing. One of the most difficult things about this blog for me thus far has been trying to generate my full thoughts about an album in a timely manner so that I can write about it before too long has gone by. With Freedom Highway I was listening to a new artist (to me) and listening to an album that sonically was different from anything that I personally listen to. This blog has gotten me to explore more artists that I may have glossed over a year ago and gotten me to really give artists and albums a chance to breath before I declare them done to me. So after a number of additional listens I was able to determine for the most part how I feel about the album which you can read below.
Highlights: For me, the highlights of the album are going to be the songwriting which is terrific, the storytelling and the voice of Rhiannon Giddens. One of my favorite if not my favorite songs on the album is the bluegrass inspired “Julie.” The song describes a mistress and a slave being in love only for the slave to find out that the mistress has sold the slaves children. This song fits in with the slavery theme of this album that you also find on “At The Purchasers Option.” The slave woman in this song was raped by her owner when she was just a young girl. She conceives a child as a result of this rape that she loves very much. She is terrified of the idea that her child can be taken from her at any time at the purchasers option. The trumpet New Orleans influenced song “Hey Bebe” is easily the happiest song on the album. The song is essentially a conversation between the woman and man where she tells him how much that she loves him. “Following The North Star” has no lyrics but, the melody is terrific. This is the type of song that you would hear on a bluegrass album. There is a tapping sound that sounds like someone tap dancing along with a banjo playing. In “The Love We Almost Had” describes a chance that two people had at love that was squandered. She wonders what could have been if the two of them had acted on their desire for each other.
Other Notable Songs: “We Could Fly” is a really nice song about flying back home after death. The narrator points to a bird outside and tells her mother that the sparrow in the tree is lucky because it can fly away far from here. She wonder’s why she too doesn’t have that ability. “Better Get It Right The First Time” is about an African American boy who is killed for doing something wrong. He was a good kid who usually was a good kid but, this one mistake cost him his life. This song is really a message about how difficult it can be as an African American in America.
Final Thoughts/Grade: From a strictly fan/enjoyment perspective this album is a little bit of a 2 part album to me. I really like the first half of the album much better than I like the second half. Lyrically and vocally it doesn’t get much better than Rhiannon Giddens but there were songs on the album that just weren’t my taste personally. That doesn’t mean that I think any of the songs on the album were bad because I don’t. I think there are things in this album that I can appreciate and respect even if every song didn’t connect with me. After giving it a lot of thought I didn’t feel at this time that I could really give this album a grade. I don’t want to give the album a grade unless I am truly 100% sure how I feel about it as a whole. I see no point in me giving an arbitrary made up grade when I don’t have one to give. So is this my favorite album of the year?… No. Is it possibly the best album I have heard all year?… very possibly. This is an album that I am going to allow to breath a little longer before I decide that firmly.