Freakwater knows it takes more than a pedal steel guitar, a big belt buckle, and a broken heart to make country music. Over the last decade Freakwater’s Catherine Irwin and Janet Beveridge Bean have mastered old-fashioned hillbilly music’s essentials: poignant storytelling, ruggedly congenial musicianship, and an appreciation for life’s endless struggles, basic pleasures, and brief duration. With their recently released fourth record, Old Paint, they’ve created another rustic gem that stands as the band’s moodiest, most thoughtful effort to date. The eight Irwin originals gracing Old Paint are steeped in the musical and lyrical traditions of country and western music yet display the understated originality that makes Freakwater special. “Smoking Daddy” delivers a moving meditation on a wayward, pack-a-day father while punning on cigarette brand names. “White Rose” pays homage to the German student movement that fomented resistance to the Third Reich, and “Gone to Stay” features a chorus guaranteed to get you shot in Nashville: “There’s nothing so pure as the kindness of an atheist / A simple act of unselfishness / That never asks to be repaid.” As always, the seemingly incongruous mix of Irwin’s raw crooning and Bean’s ringing alto blend as smoothly and potently as bourbon and spring water. Perfectly accented by Bob Egan’s pedal-steel embellishments and Dave Gay’s sauntering bass lines, Freakwater’s music is a wonderfully mellow yet heady concoction. Friday, 10 PM, Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee; 489-3160.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Yael Routtenberg.