One of the many undeniable appeals of New York singer/songwriter Gavin DeGraw is his sultry, soulful voice, layered with a raw poignancy and surprising sincerity, and wound around every melody that seeps through his lips. The J Records superstar has been on a decidedly major-label track since his debut release Chariot in 2003, and made the choice to scale back the production on his latest LP, Free. DeGraw told Billboard,
“I just wanted to make a legitimate record, an artist’s record for an artist’s fans. I didn’t want to saturate the tracks with overdubs and flying guitars and unicorns and shit. I wanted to keep everything out of the way and allow the songs to really be about what the songs are fundamentally, which is music and lyrics.””
The result is a ten-song deep journey into DeGraw’s soul that may not find a place on the charts immediately, but will definitely satiate even the pickiest of fan pallets.
“While making “Free” DeGraw reached back into his catalog to include early compositions such as “Dancing Shoes” and “Glass,” which have not been released but have become fan favorites through his live shows. He also finished a couple of songs, “Mountains to Move” and “Stay,” in the studio, [and] covered the late Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer” as the album’s opening track.”
The combination of old material and newly reconstructed studio tracks suits DeGraw perfectly, and certainly adds to his credibility as a songwriter.
Free begins with a cover of the late Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer,” a song that Slant Magazine called, “slow-burning.” There’s definite passion in DeGraw’s vocal that carries magnificently to the other nine tracks. The title track follows with heartfelt lyrics like, “I am heartbreak and romance/the feather and the stone/I feel crowded/and alone/and I wanna be free…” His voice is pristine on Free but there’s still a sexy edge that leaves you wanting more.
The unfortunate draw-back to Free is the lack of tempo change. Song after song is undeniably passionate and from the heart, but there’s little excitement in the arrangements, save a few shining moments on, “Lover Be Strong.”
DeGraw did manage to save an old gem for this record that’s reminiscent of Mark Cohen’s, “Walkin’ In Memphis.” “Dancing Shoes” begins with a delicate piano and escalates into one of the only piercing hooks on the record.
While this may not be an official follow-up to hi 2008 release, Gavin DeGraw has proven his staying power with Free. The label surprisingly supported it, critics seem confused by it, but fans love it, and in a world without frills that’s all that matters. DeGraw’s brooding melodies and soulful expressiveness have satiated pop/rock appetites with for years, and Free is no exception. A little old school, a dash of new, and heaping spoonful of authenticity makes this relaxed-fit album the perfect addition to his catalog.
If you’re into smooth melodies and passionate lyrics, make sure you check out this album, and please, do yourself a favor and give it more than just one listen. Free is definitely worth it.