Free is one of those underrated bands that sometimes slip under the radar. Formed during 1968 by vocalist Paul Rodgers, guitarist Paul Kossoff, bassist Andy Fraser, and drummer Simon Kirke, they emerged as an influential rock and blues fusion band.
If you would like to explore the cream of their career, then Molten Gold: The Anthology is an excellent compilation release. It collects the best of their six studio albums and combines them with four performances from Free Live. A final nice touch was two tracks from Kossoff’s 1973 album, Back Street Crawler. It all adds up to a 30-track ride through the English world of late 1960s and early 1970s blues-rock.
Their late-60s albums, Tons Of Sobs and the self-titled second album, found Free as a raw and gritty English blues band. They were basically a power trio with Rodgers as their vocal front man. Songs such as “I’m A Mover,” “The Hunter,” “Mouthful Of Grass,” and “I’ll Be Creepin’” are the essence of the British fusion of rock and blues.
The band evolved with the release of their two 1970s albums, Fire and Water and Highway. The albums mixed ballads and rockers and moved toward a rock sound. The first album contained their signature song, “All Right Now,” which became a huge hit in their native U.K. and the United States. It included anthem-like vocals by Rodgers and constant riffing by Kossoff and is one of those songs that still sounds fresh over 40 years later. In addition to “All Right Now;” Fire and Water was fueled by such tracks as “Oh I Wept” and “Heavy Load,” which brought them commercial success in the U.S.
Several tracks are included from their 1971 Free Live album. “Ride On Pony,” “Fire and Water,” and “Mr. Big” give a good flavor of their stage act. They were a tight and under-control band who kept most of their songs within the four-minute range. Part of their brilliance, both live and in the studio, was their economy.
Their last gasp was 1972’s Heartbreaker, a surprisingly strong album for a group about to go their own ways. “Heartbreaker,” which closes the album, has always been one of my favorite Free tracks.
Kirke and Rodgers would grab the brass ring when they formed the hard rock band Bad Company during 1972. Paul Kossoff is one of those what-ifs of rock music. Recognized as one of rock’s superior guitarists during the first half of the ’70s, he died from drug addiction at the age of 25 in 1976. His work in and out of Free is always worth exploring.
Free is a band that has always received time on my turntable. Their fusion of rock and blues was some of the best of their era. If a copy of Molten Gold: The Anthology crosses your path, grab it as it will make a fine addition to your collection.
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