“Put the band together in a room, record some live-takes and put the best moments out on CD/vinyl”
That’s how the new release from Henrik Freischlader ‘Missing Pieces’ came into being, according to the band website anyway. As easy as that? Ah, but if you are familiar with Henrik at all you will know that under the cap, behind the pleasant grin and cool, easy-going persona, there is a lot of work, attention to detail and thought behind everything the man does – from the studio through to the cover artwork. Like it’s predecessor ‘Hands on the Puzzle’ the new disc is a veritable work of Art on all levels. In fact, unless you’re a dyed in the wool Alt-Blues purist or Hell-bent Rocker, you will very likely find ‘Missing Pieces’ to be Henrik’s best and most creative work to date. Henrik Freischlader’s manifesto for a peaceful revolution is a surefire winner.
Let’s get the cold data out there first. Recorded and mixed by Martin Meinschäfer at the Megaphon Studio in Arnsberg, ‘Missing Pieces’ continues musically where 2018’s ‘Hands on the Puzzle’ left off. Those hoping that 2017’s ‘Blues for Gary’ would signal a full return to Henrik as a Bluesman are still out of luck. The rest of us though are very much in luck as, without having to adhere to specific genre restrictions, Henrik can fully unfurl his creative mind. All songwriting and music credits go to Mr Freischlader, as does the producer credit, and it’s good to see the word ‘Band’ on the cover. I was never quite sold on Henrik playing all the instruments too, despite 2009’s self-titled disc being possibly his best to date. Seemingly he also sees the value of a real band playing simultaneously warts and all (although the quality of this band is such that ‘warts’ would need to be searched for by a microscope).
Opening is a good (if unimaginative!) title for the first instrumental track. Its unimposing name actually hides an instrumental of true delicate beauty. That Henrik’s heroes are the likes of Gary Moore and Peter Green is evident in the way that his playing here is totally from the heart as those two legendary performers played. If, like me, Henrik’s version of Moore’s ‘The Messiah Will Come Again’ was always a highpoint of his concerts to you then you will love this one. New Beginning follows it almost imperceptibly until Henrik’s vocal arrives.
Multi-instrumentalist that Henrik Freischlader is, it’s still his guitar playing that gets the lions share of attention. Well, maybe there is another area where Henrik is due some worthy attention – and that’s his lyric writing. It’s something that will turn up frequently in this review and deservedly so. The accent throughout ‘Missing Pieces’ is on stepping back from the rat-race, taking a breath, being yourself and not trying to be anyone else. The ‘gameplan’ is even laid out as early as track two:
“When you stop playing the game of winning, then you ain’t got nothing more to lose”
It’s a philosophy immediately followed up on with the next track. Power to the Peaceful would make a great car bumper sticker. “The hour has come for the good souls to live their life in the main role”. The music though is never lost in the message on this disc, and there’s a soaring guitar solo in here that’s good for the very soul of those good souls.
Let The People Be Free has a Reggae tinge to it. Based on the previous track maybe that should be ‘Let the Peaceful Be Free’ even? “We don’t believe in your truth, so would you please just let us be!?” Am I seeing a certain American President in this one? There is mention of Souls and of Faith and indeed praising the Lord above. A Gospel message wrapped up in a Reggae rhythm by a Bluesman.
The album’s title track follows with a zippy 1-2-3 beat and nice keyboard work from Roman Babik. “Every little step back is a big step when you’re going in the wrong direction” – too true, and once again I love these lyrics. Justice Blues advises that “When your sky is black, you need to look for the stars” To brighten your perspective? To guide you? again, lovely writing. It’s a track that also emphasizes a further strength of Henrik’s, that is to let the instruments serve the song rather than vice-versa as one might expect from a guitar player. This one rides on a keyboard hook and gentle saxophone. Despite the Blues of it’s title the use of these instruments tilts it strongly into Jazz territory to my ears. What was it that Henrik told me during our interview in 2017? “I honestly have to say that I can’t even play Jazz”. Well his Band certainly can, and the mix with his Bluesy solo makes this a stand-out track. Love that tinkling piano and chugging sax.
Needless to say, the track Not Funky actually is. It’s only the World we live in that isn’t. A fine funky number and I love that Hammond sound at the back. The vocals are also worth a mention here. Not Henrik’s greatest strength, but on this one he shows he can deliver a strong sound on more than just a guitar. A star track too for Jazz fans when Babik and and Zügner get a chance for some interplay mid-song on keys and sax respectively. Would love to hear an extended version of this live – hopefully the cancelled 2020 Tour will take place in 2021.
Slow Rock Blues is what Henrik does almost with his eyes closed. If there’s a criticism of I Wanna Thank You then it’s that the disc up to now has been so creative and this number seems a little too much ‘back on the bread and butter Blues’ style. Safe, dependable, and an indication of the jump that so much of this release has made in comparison. Still a gem lyrically though: “Just when my broken boat was sinking, I swam back home to you”
What Have I Done To You? is a number that will make those long-time fans of Henrik’s Blues happy. The vocal is as angry as Henrik manages to get but his ‘second voice’ is more than eloquent as that guitar of his hits out with a snarling air that his physical voice never quite reaches. So if you bought the disc for great Blues guitar, don’t give it back! This is Henrik playing that style at his very best.
Grown Up has a sax intro that sounds familiar from something else by Henrik. Or Tommy Schneller perhaps? It’s gloriously Funky though and has an infectious positive vibe. “I don’t wanna be grown-up. I wanna keep on growing. I don’t wanna be there, because I wanna keep going” One and One is One plays nicely with words and has a wonderfully quirky chorus that reminds me of two-tone music (remember that?). I can imagine this being introduced on ‘Top of The Pops’ back in the day. Is there still a singles chart? Where’s MTV when you need it? Turn up loud and groove!
Speaking of hit-single material… We Used To Be Happy would have been an enormous hit for Elvis Costello. It sounds like an out-take from his ‘Almost Blue’ days. I would indeed love to hear Elvis take this one on vocally, with Henrik on lead guitar. A match made in Heaven.
We’ve arrived at the closing track already. Time has indeed flown by in the company of some fine gentle Funk and light Blues. The tempo is upped somewhat for the closing In The Shadow Of The Spotlight. I’m reminded of Thin Lizzy/Pink Floyd guitarist Snowy White here who in a recent interview said how he never wanted to be in the spotlight, he just wanted to play music. It’s Henrik’s mantra here too. Step back and do your own thing. It’s not about being a Star it’s about making music you are proud of. Henrik took this to its natural conclusion some years ago when he created his own label (Cable Car Records). In case you didn’t get the message though, it’s here in the (once again) excellent lyrics:
“I got news for you. The Blues for you. I ain’t gonna do what they want me to do!”
On the strength of Missing Pieces, I am very grateful he chooses to do what he wants to do instead.
Five stars for the music then. Five stars too for the painstaking work done on the packaging with it’s cut-out cover and postcard inserts that replace part of the cover and also contain the song texts. Could Henrik have saved a whole heap of money by just putting this out in a plain paper cover? Yes, he could, but clearly he figures his music is worth more than that – and so will you.