"Chaos is the inspiration, Country Blues is the music."
So said the elusive Reverend Freakchild before his untimely death.
These Resonator-rippled recordings you hold in your hands bubble up
from the city streets like puffs of redolent smoke exuded from the
fire and brimstone of a bygone existence.
He is said to have died in 2005, at 33 years of age, only as old as
Jesus, in a mysterious accident in India, then been cremated on the
banks of the Ganges - a strange Hindu ending for a Buddhist. But no
one really knows. He's said to have been born and raised in Hawaii and
sung in traditional island choirs before traveling the world and
finally settling in New York City and singing as a soloist in a gospel
choir in Harlem. They say he made his guitar out of a coffin and
another from a cross rescued from a church. Others say he was studying
to be a Native American contrarian Shaman. At one time he was called
New York City's undisputed king of stoner country blues before he
found sobriety - proof perhaps in the inclusion of the version of
Reviewers of different eras described the Reverend Freakchild as the
best "blues-eyed soul" artist they had ever heard. And this "Best
of..." collection of classic blues tunes shows the Rev's real core
love, which lies in the stripped-down acoustic sounds of country
blues, and, of course, in the legacy of great musical Reverends and
other blues-infused or spiritually inspired singers like Rev. Gary
Davis and Son House.
Rev. Freakchild always celebrated the blues with his own take on the
tradition. A little unorthodox and not nearly note for note, but the
spirit was all there. The soul of the lament aching toward a redeeming
cure. Caught perhaps somewhere between Jesus and jail. Or like Son
House, with whom Freakchild kicks off this album in a new arrangement
of "Preachin' Blues," being in a tug-of-war between traditional
true-religion preaching and playing, and the good-time blues music of
sexual sinnin' and livin'.
It's a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Just when
you feel like you've been transported body, mind and soul with tunes
like 'In my Time of Dying' and 'I Can't be Satisfied' and to some
psychedelic futuristic fictitious Delta while listening to these raw
tracks with sounds from the likes of 'Guru' Hugh Pool accompanying the
Freakchild on harmonica on a strange pre-Robert Johnson type version
of Rollin' and Tumblin', in peeps Jay Collins of the Allman Brothers'
touring band playing the Indian bansuri flute in a deliciously fresh
new chaotic version of 'Death Don't Have No Mercy' or Jon Bones
Ritchie Robinson skittering his acoustic bass under 'You Can't Judge a
Book by the Cover.'
Freakchild then tries to escape the delta with a couple of Willie
Dixon tunes, 'Judge a Book' and 'Little Red Rooster', but seems more
at ease when covering Texas troubadours like Blind Lemon Jefferson's
'See that my Grave is Kept Clean' (over which Freakchild apparently
used to rap Dylan's lyrics in live performances) or in a wonderfully
haunting version of Sam 'Lightnin' Hopkins' 'Death Bells' - perhaps
this ease comes from the fact that the Rev's roots echo his ancestors,
said to be some of the first German settlers in Houston.
Freakchild came out of the blues, but was never locked into it. "Using
the blues as a starting point, I try to keep in the tradition, and
take it one step further," he says in the rare radio interview
included at the end of this disc, elsewhere explaining that he aims to
"capture the chaotic coherence and the spirit of the tune" – never was
a phrase better tuned to describe the life and music, if not the
times, of this occluded figure.
Those who knew him know that Rev. Freakchild was a virtual blues
encyclopedia, telling stories with great enthusiasm, and reading and
learning all he could about the amazing American tradition we call the
blues. Now gone, it seems he has become part of the myths he so loved.
Culled from some of Freakchild's most intimate recording sessions,
these tracks uncover a beautifully troubled soul inspired by the blues
and rocked but not rolled by the pounding pace of modern times,
generously distilling the raw mystical power of song into dappled
ambrosia for the patient and purposeful, loping like a mule back into