Cable Car Records [Release date 04.12.20]
Henrik Freischlader returns with ‘Missing Pieces’ another exquisitely woven blues album full of restrained playing, whispered sprechgesang and deep blues.
The album title could almost refer to his own artistry, which though full of musical excellence and emotional veracity doesn’t quite have the lyrical depth to make this album any better or worse than his previous releases.
And that’s a shame because ‘Missing Pieces’ is a blues album with a difference. From the lush art work – including Caroline Sandmayer’s thematic frontispiece which sets out the conflicting images of nature, the metropolis and money – to the imaginative arty lyric cards, complete with individual evocative photos, this is an ambitious blues album which aims high, but doesn’t quite achieve its lofty goals.
It’s a contemporary blues album shot through with an essential aesthetic that extends from the art work to the layered sound. The album is infused with real feel, tasteful playing, fine band interplay, a sprinkle of relationship songs, and is interwoven with a sense of spiritual enquiry that pushes Freischlader into the realms of the philosophical.
It’s rare for a blues album to embrace such thoughtful introspection, but though the lyrics are imaginative in their use of metaphor and imagery, they don’t always make clear what it is he’s trying to say.
There are too many moments when he employs cool sounding couplets without delivering clarity of meaning. For example, on ‘Let The People Be Free’ his overarching theme is clear, but not so his detail: “Free from the lies of your shiny disguise – Free – free from your dirty old game of pride – Free – free from your spell of pressure and fear – Free – free from the danger to disappear.”
The track has a claustrophobic feel which he ruptures with an intense guitar break that rises, hovers and then glides above the track as a clever extension of his limited vocal style.
Better still, the repeated hook makes sure the song lingers long in the memory.
The Zen like eclectic lyrics of ‘New Beginning’ are full of integrity, but are clumsy and as a result don’t quite resonate. In fairness, this may have something to do with a translation from German to English: “Don’t you leave your chances chanceless. You will never wish for more. Than what’s going on inside your window. When you’re walking through that open door.”
No matter, as he sings: “Every ending is a new beginning,” he cleverly demonstrates that by combining his sprechgesang with subtle guitar textures he can make an emotional impact.
He further colours the song with a lush guitar tone and breaks the self imposed tension with a full blown solo illuminated by his weeping tone.
He’s much better when he cleverly combines a stream of consciousness scat-into-rap approach on an intricate arrangements such as the anthemic ‘Power To The Peaceful’.
It’s a song that calls for self-reflection and honest decision making, as he leans into a majestic solo while ably supported by his band. And if his lyrical mystification means that one part of a couplet isn’t necessarily a corollary of the other, as on: “Money makes the world go round, time is lost and can’t be found,” he’s at least inviting us to share an admirable sentiment in which his blues is a catalyst for the search for a deeper understanding and thematic building blocks.
Quite often the key to his core meaning is simply to be found in the song titles themselves. On ‘Grown Up’ he explores the option of being able to remain creatively free and evolve, while ‘One And One Is One’ is a rallying call for idealists and staying true to yourself.
Then there’s the self explanatory ‘Justice Blues’, which taken together with the other two songs feels as if they are part of an exhortation to liberate the soul or cleanse the psyche.
The jazzier self-empowerment title track features a staccato intro and cleverly delivered jagged vocals, while on ‘It Ain’t Funky’ he finds room to stretch out with Roman Babik on keyboards and Marco Zügner on sax, while adding his own touch of lyrical humour: “If I didn’t feel just like I feel today, tomorrow, I would have nothing new to say.”
Significantly, this track sounds like something the band might have conjured up in the rehearsal room, which on reflection might explain the uneasy juxtaposition between his lyrical ambitions and live in the studio vibe.
‘Missing Pieces’ is a slow burner on which Freischlader lights the touch paper, smoulders with intent, but his frequently nuanced utopian vision is never clear enough to fan the flames.
He approaches everything with broad bush strokes, generalised concepts and luscious grooves which glue everything together, but only rarely do the lyrics and music fit together seamlessly.
‘Missing Pieces’ is an introspective and understated album that longtime fans might indeed expect. It frustratingly offers only partial glimpses of Henrik own playing ability. And while he clearly enjoys his role as an integral band member, his notion of serving the song is sometimes taken too literally. Sure his best song percolate and flow nicely, but they too often fall short of the bigger picture that he consistently alludes to in his lyrics.
He does offer greater concision on the penultimate track, the relationship song ‘We Used To Be Happy’, “You said that you loved me , and i love you, too but you’re there without me , and I’m without you.”
He adds a short defining solo with clipped full toned notes that make an emotional connection either side of his heartfelt vocal on an album highlight.
Indeed it feels as if the previous tracks have led him on a journey to this very point. He pours out his heart and soul in a song where nothing is hurried or rushed and the emphasis is wholly on feel.
Better still, he provides an upbeat finish with a jazzy appendage and his best lyrics on the intricately woven ‘Walking In The Shadows Of The Spotlight’. He cleverly uses contrast, an alliterative feel and a breathless delivery, flanked by a sinewy guitar break and sax stabs to round off a thoughtful album with a flourish.
‘Missing Pieces’ isn’t quite the defining piece in Henrik Freischlader’s musical jigsaw, it’s too understated for that, but in an age of formulaic product and cliched subject matter, there will always be room for a heartfelt album like this. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
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