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Freakwater tours behind 20-year-old disc without the ka-ching

Johnny D's, Somerville, MA, January 13, 2013

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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What does Freakwater have in common with Judas Priest, Yes, Roger Waters, Steely Dan and Motley Crue among many others? The alt.-country (make that more mainstream of what used to be known as country) is out celebrating the 20th anniversary of their "Feels Like the Third Time" disc, playing it from start to finish.

Now Freakwater wasn't and isn't exactly a household name. But no worries there. Janet Beveridge Bean of Chicago and her compadre Catherine Irwin, a Louisville native, have shared the center stage for a long time and picked up a thing or two about making for a night of good music.

The disc was considered a key ingredient of the then burgeoning alt.-country scene with seven originals and five covers. Freakwater was never at the forefront of the movement exactly like Uncle Tupelo and groups of that stature.

But here they are 20 years later, still able to get 100 people on a Sunday night singing songs that were often on the sad side. "We decided we'd come out of holes and play some shows," opined Bean. "It's a burrow," joked Irwin.

Irwin and Bean, also a member of long-running Chicago rock band Eleventh Dream Day, shared an easy rapport on stage with the two generally engaging in humorous banter. Sometimes the songs were outright duets, although for the most part one took lead and the other backed up.

Bean's voice was prettier, more angelic sounding, while Irwin sang in a lower register, starting with the lead-off My Old Drunk Friend making for a pointed contrast between their voices.

The material offered a tremendous amount of variety - some hard-core twangy country (Hank Williams' Pale Horse), some hillbilly style, some mournful. There were enough changes, twists and turns to keep it interesting.

While they shared the spotlight, the musical spotlight shined mightily on guitarist and lap steel ace Jim Elkington, who was seen not too long ago playing with Kelly Hogan on the very same stage. Elkington, who sat at the back, did wonders with his instrumental prowess, giving a most twangy feel to the songs. Long time bassist David Wayne Gay was the rhythm section.

Don't think that Freakwater was planning to use the excuse of playing "Feels Like the Third Time" as a chance to draw the masses. The idea was more like a chance for friends together and hit the road for a few weeks. In fact, this was the first time they played the Boston area in about six years.

There's something to be said for touring behind an album, particularly when the ka-ching machine is nowhere to be heard.