Country singers and rockstars, on the surface at least, don’t appear to have a lot in common other than a shared artistic medium. But if you look a little closer, you shouldn’t be surprised when you find that even beyond their shared roots in blues and folk music, rock n’ roll and country/western music structurally and thematically aren’t very different at all. Love songs are abundant in both. Rebellion too, even if they approach it from wildly different sides of the social spectrum. And of course, where would either be without their shared weapon of choice; the guitar. Occasionally the two sides clash and we hear a synthesis of the two, whether it be southern rock bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or more recently bands like Clutch and Alabama Thunderpussy, or even country/pop crossovers like those from Garth Brooks or early Taylor Swift. And, as you can imagine, the results yielded from these aforementioned artists, and especially the ones that you’ve never even heard of, have been anywhere from mixed to mesmerizing. When it doesn’t work, it’s trite and unsalvageable critically and commercially for the artist. But when it works, and the songwriting is ace, the band is nimble and cohesive and the production value is professional… you’ve struck gold in two separate but equally lucrative markets in the music industry. I’m pleased to report that we may have found a record that fits into the latter category quite comfortably in Cathy Hutch’s new full-length album Free Wheelin’, released this year to near-universal acclaim from audiences and critics alike.
A follow up to her Nashville-recorded debut Not Goin’ Back, Free Wheelin’ in many ways picks up where her first album left off and does what every sophomore offering should do for an artist; expand their sound. Free Wheelin’ is distinctly heavier and steeped in sharp southern blues than its predecessor, and much to the chagrin of anyone who doubted her the first time around, this album is not only louder and crisper in its production quality, but shows off a significantly evolved and matured songwriter standing at its center stage. Paul Milner, who has worked with everyone from Keith Richards to Glass Tiger, leaves a really noticeable imprint on the overall production value of the record, and he is brilliantly assisted by Geoff Arsenault and Chris Corrigan, who round out the team behind the soundboard on this adventurous undertaking of audio. Everything clicks into place like a solid pop album requires on Free Wheelin’, and its 100% because of the originality in tracks like “Reflections of my Life,” “Know it All” and “Attitude of Gratitude,” three of the most well-rounded songs on the record. Every one of these songs tests our presumptions of what this kind of music is supposed to sound like, and those presumptions are often ripped apart in an eruption of cool guitar solos in the vein of Buddy Guy and Robert Cray, organs that grind out saloon-style swing and the occasional whistle of a harmonica peeking in on the band to keep us on a straight path carrying us into the deep, soul-filled south. If you’ve got the audiological chops to come along for the ride, Free Wheelin’ is an amazing trip to take for anyone who considers themselves a discriminating music fan.