Live Review: Alice Howe + Freebo, The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey, 26th April 2024

Alice Howe, live at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey, 26th April 2024
photo: Mark Dinnage

The final weekend of April saw the long-awaited return of Alice Howe and Freebo to Lincolnshire’s premier Americana music venue, The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey, having last appeared upon this stage back in 2018. A lot has happened since, with 2019 seeing the release of Howe’s debut album ‘Visions’ before the Covid pandemic, as it did for so many, put plans and dreams on hold. For Howe and Freebo it meant that the completion of her sophomore album was curtailed after just three tracks had been recorded at the legendary Fame Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, the Alabama-based studio made famous by such soul icons as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. In hindsight the extra time may well have been a godsend, as it allowed them the opportunity to fine tune their material and arrangements, so that when restrictions were lifted, the return to the studio bore the fruits of eleven wonderful songs building on all the promise of the debut but with a broader and more expansive sound and a greater maturity in the lyrical narrative.

Produced by Freebo and released last year to widespread acclaim ‘Circumstances’ embodied the journey Howe had travelled emotionally over the last five years, writing or co-writing all bar one of the songs, drawing on her observations and personal experiences and wrapping it all up in a sound that reflected her musical influences, full of modern folk sensibilities, country ballads and hard-driving blues. Of course Howe would be the first to attest that her achievements over the last seven years owe a lot to the man sharing the stage with her tonight, and who has produced her last two album as well as co-writing seven of the tracks on the new album. The claim of legendary status can often be reached for prematurely but there is no doubting the credentials of Daniel Friedberg, better known as Freebo, who throughout a career that has spanned seven decades, has worked with many of the greatest artists across the musical genres. Whether it be as bass guitarist for Bonnie Raitt throughout the seventies, or working with the likes of, Crosby Stills & Nash, Dr John, Maria Muldaur, and Kate & Anna McGarrigle, he is rightly considered one of LA’s finest, not just as a musician but equally as a producer and songwriter, having released five solo albums, the most recent being ‘If Not Now,When’ (2015).

Alice Howe + Freebo, live at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 26th April 2024
photo: Mark Dinnage

The format for the evening’s performance was very relaxed with the two artists taking the stage together and opening with ‘Twilight’, the first track from Howe’s debut album that immediately entranced the audience with a voice that seemed almost transcendental, the timbre betraying a distinct sense of grace and power, delivered with a unique level of integrity, passion, and warmth which held the hall in total silence, hanging on her every breath. Alongside Howe, Freebo played his trademark fretless bass, offering a subtle jazz flavouring to the gently strummed guitar, constantly looked to his left, and smiling approvingly. This was followed by two songs from the new album. Firstly, ‘Somebody’s New Lover Now’, a soulful country number with a modern twist, followed by ‘Something Calls To Me’ with it’s darker, slightly more foreboding lyrical narrative underpinned by a picked guitar in alternative tuning. It was noticeable during the evening’s set list how often double capo’s were used on the guitars helping to create a broader range in colour and tension to the sound. The following number was a new one from Howe entitled ‘Forever Is A Long Long Time’, a heartfelt and absorbing number inspired by her father who she lost when she was only eighteen years old, before ‘You’ve Been Away So Long’, a song that deals with coming to terms with the turmoil of the past that had originally appeared on an EP she released back in 2018, and which she returned to on her most recent release.

At this point the duo swapped instruments with Howe showing her prowess on bass while Freebo took centre stage on guitar, delivering a handful of songs from his own back catalogue. At eighty years young, Freebo could pass for twenty years younger, his musical dexterity and vocal strength still the envy of many younger aspiring contemporaries, his songs soaked with the sagacity and dry humour that only comes with a lifetime’s experience. A true master of his craft. Opening with ‘She’s My Personal GPS’, from his most recent release, he delivered the sort of groove he was creating with Raitt some fifty years ago. ‘She Loves My Dog More Than Me’, and its narrative wit and double entendre had the congregation giggling like a group of teenagers while ‘Before The Separation’, the title song to his 2005 album, exhibited all the lyrical wisdom of someone who’s seen and understood most that there is to see and got a wardrobe of T-shirts to prove it. There was still time for two more numbers from Freebo before the interval with ‘Everything To Do With Love’ and personal favourite ‘Standing Ovation’, bringing the first set to a close.

Freebo, live at The Town Hall, Kirton in Lindsey. 26th April 2024
photo: Mark Dinnage

After the interval, which had seen both artists at the merchandise table taking time to converse with members of the audience and sign CDs for those that thronged around the table, the second half of the evening’s performance got underway. As with the opening set Howe got things rolling, returning to her most recent album with the uptempo ‘What About You’ before delivering her first cover version of the night with Bob Dylan’s seminal number ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright’ that appeared on her debut release. The country blues-infused number ‘Travelin’ Soul’ complete with a tasty bass solo from Freebo and faint hint of Raitt in Howe’s vocal delivery followed next, before Howe slowed the pace down with the break-up song ‘Let Go’, with the narrative focussing on the healing process.

The joyous ‘With You By My Side’, brought the run of Howe’s songs to a close and Freebo returned with a couple of songs he’d co-written. The first, ‘To The Light’, written with Severin Browne, younger brother of Jackson was followed by ‘Something To Believe’, a song he wrote with a friend struck down by the horrendous disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (A.L.S.) better known in this country as motor neurone disease (M.N.D.). However, there is no self-pity here, either in the narrative or the delivery, choosing to focus rather on the positive even in the darkest of places making the listening all the more heart-rending. A wonderful rendition of Little Feat’s classic ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ came next, written by the genius that was Lowell George of whom Freebo has fond memories of the halcyon years they shared on the L.A. music scene.  ‘If Not Now, When’, with Howe returning to bass guitar duties was the last of Freebo’s numbers, all of which had benefited from Howe’s gorgeous vocal support, offering the perfect counterpoint and expanding the harmonies.

The closing numbers were all cover versions starting with the Earle Green and Carl Montgomery classic ‘Six Days On The Road’, a major hit in 1963 for Dave Dudley, that Howe and Freebo injected with their own brand of high octane energy for this truck driving anthem. From here the pace changed dramatically as Howe delivered her version of Joni Mitchell’s acclaimed number ‘A Case Of You’. Borrowing Freebo’s guitar and with eyes half closed she took this much-covered song and made it uniquely hers whilst still respecting the original, fully understanding the lyrical complexities and emotional turmoil wrapped up in Mitchell’s timeless classic.

It seemed somewhat fitting that the final number of the second set should be ‘Angel From Montgomery’ for it was Bonnie Raitt’s version on her album ‘Streetlights’, on which Freebo was a major contributor, that helped attain wider recognition for this classic John Prine song. The delivery here strayed little from Raitt’s version, sung as a duo with Howe’s voice subtly adding just the right amount of tension and release to emphasise the frustration in the narrative. A wonderful rendition of a wonderful song fully appreciated by the congregation who, as they had throughout the evening, sang along with gusto.

A encore was unsurprisingly demanded and duly delivered with ‘I Feel Good’, offering just the right amount of audience participation to end the evening’s performance where it had resided throughout the two sets, on a resounding high. Let’s hope it is considerably less than six years before Howe and Freebo return to this illustrious stage.

About Graeme Tait 118 Articles
Hi. I'm Graeme, a child of the sixties, eldest of three, born into a Forces family. Keen guitar player since my teens, (amateur level only), I have a wide, eclectic taste in music and an album collection that exceeds 5.000. Currently reside in the beautiful city of Lincoln.
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Alan Peatfield

Yep, I think you’ve nailed this review Graeme. You captured the tone, feeling and intimacy that Alice & Freebo created. Whilst aware of Alice, I’d yet to hear her material but was smitten after the first two numbers. A voice to die for, crystal clear and deeply resonant. Your background detail was, as always, well researched and consequently very informative. Thanks for transporting me back to that evening! BTW, nice photos Mark!

john mail

Yes thanks Graeme – you did the gig justice – personally, although I revere Freebo and what he does I went to hear That Voice and was a mite disappointed there wasn’t more of it in the second half – Alice’s songs are good but I could listen to her covering the classics all night long – her version of ‘A Case of You’ far surpasses the original!