The band photo that graces the inside front cover of Jeremiah Freed’s second full-length, Slow Burn, is like a window through time. It easily could have been taken in 1973, what with the button-down shirts hanging open (with a western vibe) and everybody’s hair making a run for their shoulders. There’s a chance the photo is something of an ironic nod, a take-off on the Allman Brothers Band’s debut self-titled album’s cover, or maybe the cover to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1999 best of album. But even if the photo is on the up and up, simply a genuine snapshot of who Jeremiah Freed are, you should still take a look at those two albums if you want to see the genesis of Jeremiah Freed.
Sure, the Allmans’ debut is only six songs, but it’s full of the Southern fire the Freed are using to fuel their songs, and “Whipping Post” might be the best Southern rock song ever written. And that Skynyrd greatest hits album definitely scores with “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama,” but it’s the inclusion of “What’s Your Name” that provides a fitting counterpoint to “Do My Best,” the best song on Slow Burn, and a tune that deserves to be played at every senior prom for the next 10 years.
It’s a song, like many on Burn, that has vocalist Joe Smith evincing a resigned, though not dispirited, air. “I gave up trying to be a tall, strong man/ Now I’m thinking about running, just as fast as I can,” he sings, over a bouncy acoustic guitar, simpler than most of the guitar work here, but, of course, less can often be more.
He can’t decide if he wants to be bitter or loving, standoffish or pleading. On one hand he offers that, “If you leave me, you’re going to get hurt/ You’re going to feel empty, I bet you’ll miss the smell of my shirts.” But the chorus is a sweet pleading: “I’ll do my best not to yell to you, if it would help us make it through/ No it never seems that bad, one lesson is all you had/ Walk on down to where they know you best/ Shed a tear as you remove your dress/ Let that other man on inside/ Give another one a place to hide.”
There’s a good cadence in the bridge. The song couldn’t be catchier in general. It’s made for radio and singing along. But what separates the tune from standard radio fare, and elevates it to anthemic status is the guitar work from Nick Goodale, who impresses all over this album. It’s not just that he can rip out a great solo — most practiced guitarists can master the idea of staying within a chord structure and moving their fingers around. It’s that Goodale has a rare talent for matching his breaks with the mood of the song, and for never seeming like he’s showing off. Mostly — and I say this with true jealousy — it seems effortless.
On “Do My Best,” his guitar gently weeps, as it does on “Riding Home,” the rock version of Dylan folk. But those latter tunes follow earlier album cuts with alternating aggressiveness, wit, detachment, and exultation.
Live, the album’s opener, “Ride On,” actually would make for a cool jam leading into “Riding Home” as a final number before the encore — the second tune clocks in around seven minutes even on the album. They play off of each other, too. “Ride On” sets the Southern rock tone early, and their “advice to you is ride on.” But I don’t want to. This is a place of transcendent guitar solos, with Smith’s gritty (maybe deeper than in the past?) voice recalling cool motorcycles and hot chicks, a little bit Black Crowes, a little bit Zeppelin.
But “Riding Home” tells me that the band have “got something to tell you/ I don’t think you’ll like it. Because I feel that it’s not my fault/ Cuz you were thinking about seeing me die.” In fact, “there’s a certain spot in hell/ A level for me, too/ Empty bottles everywhere, and a girl with an empty stare.” That doesn’t sound very fun. Who said anything about part Morrissey?
For me, Southern rock has always been a pretty care-free arena, but the Freed have taken that sentiment and turned in a dire, “Man of Constant Sorrow” kind of album. They’re even “Off the Bottle.”
In Josh Rogers’s review of their debut album, he wrote about “vocal consternation,” “gloomy lyrics,” and “emotional drain.” Slow Burn offers up more of the same, culminated in the all-acoustic finisher, “Feed Me Well.” It’s laid back, melancholy, with a turn on the acoustic slide from Goodale, but, as with the debut album, there’s always a hope to grab onto. Here, they seem to revel in the fact that “I’ll still see your eyes/ And your smile will always make me blink.”
It’s encouraging that Jeremiah Freed have embraced the deep, soulful sound that seems to come naturally, and have avoided what may have been a strong impulse (while signed to Universal anyway) to make alt/radio/aggressive rock. Sure, these guys can turn in a scorcher with the best of them, but their depth and commitment to their sound shines through, and that’s going to create an emotional bond with the fans that should prove their ultimate success.