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For the Dying
Label: independent - unsigned
Time: 12 tracks/39:42
FreeSlave - the band - started out as Haydon Spenceley, the solo artist. Luckily, Spenceley is not only unmistakably English, but also somewhat compelling as a songwriter and singer. This is not to say that there aren’t some problems with Songs For the Dying – and part of what holds this project back a bit is that feeling of being stuck somewhere between one man’s musical sketchbook and an album by a fully-realized band. There are some very good song concepts here that are immediately enjoyable, but suffer from a distinct short-falling in the energy department, causing the listener to wish that the songs would kick into a higher gear.
I suppose the CD’s title, Songs For the Dying, should be a tip-off that this isn’t exactly a party album, and Spenceley’s liner notes indicate that many of the songs were written during, and in the wake of, “personal suffering and the suffering of others,’ but that doesn’t necessarily negate the possibility of some strong rock & roll statements. Spenceley’s vocals are emotional but reserved, and all-too-often processed and lower in the mix than they should be, almost as if he’s not confident about his voice. The musical chores on the CD are handled by Haydon Spenceley (keys and vocals), John Roberts (drums) Harun (bass, guitars, additional vocals and keys, and loops) and Ross Gill (guitars). The over-all sound is traditional, but spacey instrumentation, often featuring fuzz-guitar and washes of electronics. Before the recording was completed, a ‘real’ band formed, turning a solo act into the group, FreeSlave. It’s my guess that a live band attack on these good songs would be what’s needed to push them past the edge and turn them into more memorable performances. Although there are some nice touches in the stereo mix of the album, and the songs have some memorable hooks, the studio performances seem rather restrained, and would have benefited by stronger performances by musicians committed to developing the songs to their full potential.
Songs For the Dying, despite having an over-all sameness about the sonics, presents some heartfelt rock songs, many of which will stay with you. Haydon Spenceley has a likeable, genuine quality about his vocal delivery and his writing – perhaps this is why the simple, piano-only accompaniment to “Always Yours” makes the song one of the highlights of the album, with its unaffected sound and simple presentation: it shows Spenceley’s strong points – his honest vocal style and simple, but engaging songwriting. I look forward to seeing what FreeSlave will do next, as a real band.
By Bert Saraco