Sunday, August 11, 2013

Heaven/Earth - The Free Design

The Free Design
Project 3  PR 5037SD

The third album by the Free Design.  I'm a big 1960s buff, but I was not aware of this group until I heard Dressy Bessy's cover of one of their songs on "The Powerpuff Girls" soundtrack CD.  I liked the song and looked up its origin and thus discovered this band that really I should have known about much earlier.  They didn't appear in any of the rock encyclopedias or histories I used when forming my record collection.  They toiled in undeserved obscurity during their existence from 1967 to 1972.   The band enjoyed a modest resurgence of interest in the past decade fueled by the admiration of bands like Stereolab and the reissuing of their original albums.  The band consisted of four siblings, the Dedricks, led by brother Chris who wrote the band's original material and did their elaborate arrangements. The band's style was a mix of arty soft rock and chamber pop akin to Orpheus or the Millennium but better than either.  I'm not a big soft rock fan, but this group really appeals to me.  I like all of Chris Dedrick's original songs which comprise most of side one.  My favorite is "2002 - A Hit Song" which is about how to write a hit single and the band's failure to achieve one.  Dedrick is mocking hit singles, but really this song should have been one.  It has a big hooky bass line, a solid beat, a catchy chorus and the band's characteristically complex vocal harmonies driving it, a terrific song.  The album's closing tune "Dorian Benediction" is Dedrick's most interesting song.  It blends a vocal line that sounds derived from Medieval liturgical music with a jazzy instrumental backing with remarkable results.  "Now Is The Time" is upbeat sunshine pop that is highly engaging and the most propulsive tune on the record.  "You Be You and I'll Be Me" is in a similar vein and almost as good.  I like the lyrics about keeping one's identity in a relationship.  "My Very Own Angel" and "Girls Alone" are slight but very lovely thanks to the delicate instrumental arrangements and enchanting vocal harmonies.  I like the cover songs on the album much less.  They make up most of side two.  My favorite is their cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" which is very slow and deliberate.  Normally I would object to the lethargic pace of the song, but the vocals are so gorgeous I find that I appreciate the slow tempo.  They do a jazzy version of Gershwin's "Summertime" which has an impressive arrangement and the studio band really cooks, but I find the vocals kind of weak.  The song needs a stronger lead singer than the band can provide.   There is a chamber pop version of "Where Do I Go" from the musical "Hair."  I like the strings which make the song seem less like a show tune.  "Hurry Sundown" was a flop single for Peter, Paul and Mary.  I like the Free Design's version a lot better both for its superior arrangement and for the quality of the vocal harmonies.  The worst of the cover songs is the group's version of "Memories" which was a hit for Elvis.  They dress the song up pretty nicely but I still find it nauseatingly sappy although definitely an improvement on Presley's record.  The Free Design and "Heaven/Earth" deserve to be better known.  Side one of this album is about as good as any soft rock I've ever heard, I listen to it quite a bit.  Recommended to fans of the Cowsills and Spanky and Our Gang looking for something a little smarter.       

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