A new studio release from Henrik Freischlader arrived on my CD player recently. Following his enjoyable stay in a ‘House in the Woods’ last year he was taking a ‘Night Train to Budapest’. So how did the journey turn out?
Well the cover I certainly approve of. Partly because I love the desatch style, partly because of the fresh papery smell of the fabric and yes, I admit it, because if I take a magnifying glass to the ‘thank-you’s’ page my name is in there. Which might make you suspect I will be a bit biased in my judgement. That may well be true for the cover – but I’ll keep my feet firmly on the objective ground regarding the music itself, honestly.
The bar for Henrik has to be his 2009 classic produced by Martin Meinschäfer. A near perfect blend of melody, tempo and production where everything that had worked well before finally came together for a stunning disc that showed how emotional music should be and could be.
Since then the releases have been good and occasionally great “Still Frame Replay” has some classic Rock Blues on it ‘What’s my Name’ and ‘I’ve got it good’ for example. 2012’s ‘House in the Woods’ had it’s moments like ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart Again’ too but maybe less of them than its predecessor. And now, one year later, comes ‘Night Train To Budapest’.
Truth to tell it didn’t grab me on first listen. I’m used to something in the songs that sticks (you don’t forget the chorus to ‘What’s my **** Name’ in a hurry!) but on the new release there is rarely an immediate impact. Perhaps because there’s no Record Company with a contract tied to sales quotas to fear – Henrik IS Cable Car. There is less a feeling of someone aiming to be commercially successful and more one of a man who answers to no-one and can therefore tell it just how he wants to.
The result is a rather deep, reflective offering that gives out it’s full potential only after a few hearings. It’s worth persevering with Henrik’s world though, which is seemingly one of melancholy for a time when life was less hectic (‘Down The Road’), When love was strong (‘Thinking About You’) When life was less material. “Don’t mistake the things you earn, for what was given to you” he pleads in ’Point of View’.
The music is pulled along by this reflectiveness too with less flashy soloing and more thick powerchording backdrops out of which are squeezed in reserved quantity the Freischlader guitar riffs that are his forte. But even then the solos seem to be purposely kept down in the mix – as if for a fear that they will distract from the songs themselves.
More of a singers album then for Germany’s premier blues axeman. On the subject of vocals – am I the only one who hears 70’s style Elvis Costello in Henrik’s delivery? I remember pointing this out in an interview once and he was bemused at the thought. I wish he’d give those Costello discs a listen and maybe dig just a little deeper even into the gutsy way Costello delivers his vocals. A little more Mr Nasty from a man who by nature is a Mr Nice.
I’m certainly not the only one who hears a certain Irish guitar hero in much of Henrik’s soloing – it reaches it’s limit (or maybe oversteps it a little) on ‘Shame’ where the mighty riffs of ‘Emerald’ seems to meet the mighty riffs of ‘Black Rose’ in a head on collision towards the end.
Perhaps the disc overall is best summed up by one of Henrik’s own lyrics (in ‘My Woman’):
“My heart longs for adventure – but my soul for security”
This is an excellent album that shows Henrik Freischlader has really matured as a writer and a vocalist. It tries to be different from previous releases but still possesses a familiarity about it for those who’ve been long term HF fans. It’s a disc that really requires closer listening and more time than previous HF releases. I suspect that’s because it’s writer, musician for everything but keyboards, and producer all knew what they meant and what they wanted to convey – but they are all one man. It needs someone from outside to say “Hey Henrik, that’s nice, but I don’t quite get it. Maybe you should grit up the vocals on this one?. Maybe take a guitar out of that one where it’s getting crowded…?” A Martin Meinschäfer perhaps.
So there you are. It was a bit of a battle to read through the booklets cover lyrics and equally a battle to really get at the roots of what the disc is all about. It’s an interesting journey at times though and there’s clearly a lot of darkness between stops on the Night Train to Budapest. All in all I’m glad to have pleasant company in the voice and guitar of Henrik Freischlader as my guide – he seems certain how to get there, and if I’m not always certain of the route he’s chosen I know it will make for an interesting journey in good company.