Freakwater (Amoeba Records)
Format: LP
Freak Water

By Paul Moffett

It could have been done better.

It should have been done better.

Why wasn't it done better? These questions remain unanswered every time I put this album on and listen to it, trying to decide whether or not I like it.

My first thought was that the record company executives must have been recently impressed with Michelle Shocked's East Texas twang and hard-as-a-native-pecan songwriting and decided that Freakwater might just have a shot at it on that level.

Freakwater sounds as authentic as Shocked but the songwriting is not nearly her equal. Freakwater is composed of Catherine Ann Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean, both playing guitar and singing. Peter Searcy of Squirrel Bait and Big Wheel fame added some cello to the album mix. Studio players also helped.

The jacket of this album is misleading in some respects. Shot reversed, so that black lines on white background become white lines on black, the cover is a melange of primitive doodles with circles as the primary motif. In the center, in green, is the name of the album in large, easy-to-read letters. A pretty nice design, overall, hinting at equally arty, design-oriented music inside.

The opening guitar strum reinforces the primitive aspect of the jacket. And reinforces it.

Ah, but the vocals. No arty, East Coast or West Coast or big-city stuff here, nosiree, this is straight-from-the-holler singin'. Flattened harmonies an octave above, with the occasional slip to a fifth. The untutored might think it was bluegrass and, though that music is clearly part of Freakwater's musical heritage, their vocal style goes farther back into the mountains.

The songs themselves are a mixed bag. Mostly tunes written by Irwin or Irwin and Bean, some have fairly pleasant melodies, helped along by the two voices. None of them are stand-out tunes.

The production is very uneven, almost of minimal demo quality, with not-well-thought-out instrumentation, nearly as primitive in its own way as the cover art.

Nevertheless, it seems to pretty much match the vocals.


Most of the album was cut in Chicago, with one tune recorded at Artists Recording Service in Louisville.

So why wasn't it done better? I don't know, but if these women continue to sing and record, I hope it gets done better, because Freakwater has a certain something that might very well take them a long way in the business.

Oh, yes, I like it. Sort of.