Ever since Clare Free’s 2010 CD ‘Be Who You Are’ I’ve been looking forward to a new one from the girl from Oxfordshire. Her musical upbringing saw Clare mingle with some excellent British Blues musicians including popular band ‘The Spikedrivers’ and Matt Schofield, but I found the disc a bit too clinical sounding, the vocals a bit too ‘folky’ (I like folk but it didn’t quite fit the themes or the music on the disc). On her second official release ‘Dust & Bones’ though, Clare ticks a lot of boxes that say ‘This is not just ‘another’ woman playing the blues who knows her way around a fretboard – this is a unique voice waiting to be discovered’.
Here’s the problem: If you sing the Blues Old Style you get accused of copying, the Blues needs to be fresh to survive. But if you add a twist, you get Jazz, Rock, Pop… in fact pretty well every genre is a variation. How many Blues songs do you know that deal with the fear of miscarriage (‘Small Miracles’) hidden beauty (‘Scars’) or stalking (‘Creepy’)? If ever there was a woman writing modern Blues for women then it’s Clare Free. with it’s slightly plummy, English-rose edge, even her voice doesn’t fit the standard Blues mould.
Some topics of course are male and female. The title track ‘Dust & Bones’ explores the end of a relationship. Clearly the man has made a serious mistake and it’s going to end the relationship, but what is it? Maybe it’s nothing concrete – just a matter of jealousy. The female subject of the next track for example. But then ‘Little Miss Jealousy’ has a right to be suspicious – “She don’t know that I dream of you every night” as Clare sings. Tangled webs indeed.
There is a great deal to enjoy in the songwriting on this disc, but it never gets in the way of the music, which is first rate Blues/Funk. Clare has been making a name in the UK as an excellent guitarist, and her fretwork here is a joy to hear. It’s as eclectic as her lyrics. The simple guitar lines of her heroes Albert Collins and Buddy Guy melt into riffs and melodies that call to mind Led Zeppelin and Guns n Roses – often within the same track. Bassist Dave Evans deserves special credit for the overall sound of the disc – his funky bass patterns provide a lively texture for Clare to paint her solos on.
This year sees Clare Free stepping onto European stages for the first time with shows in Belgium and a number of festivals. A mother of two children, she is up against a veritable battalion of ‘girls with guitars’ right now. Dani Wilde, Sam Fish, Chantel McGregor, Erja Lytinnen, Sue Foley, Ana Popovic… Can she compete? Is the market saturated? It’s all very much down to how the public react to Clares unique perspective on the Blues, given that the majority of listeners are likely to be male. If I was a woman though I’d love this CD – heck, I’m a man but I love it anyway! Intelligent lyrics, imaginative music and super guitar. Are you listening European promoters? The last CD was promising – this one delivers.
A live version of ‘Creepy’ from the new CD