Life at 33⅓: Not quite all right now

Free: Fire And Water (Island).

Free: Fire And Water (Island)

The album that made Free rock’n’roll stars, and it is solely thanks to the single “All Right Now” which held the #1 spot on the NME TOP 30 for three consecutive weeks in July 1970.

A new band?  Not at all.  “Fire And Water” was their third album.  Most people didn’t know that.  Both predecessors had a greater range and more to offer than this, but they lacked a potential monster hit.  “All Right Now” was tailor made, the opening riff caught you after three seconds.  Even if “Fire And Water” does not live up to the promises of its predecessors nor the hit that took it to the top of the album charts, it’s still a blessing to listen to.  A melancholy and laid-back slice of 2nd generation British blues-rock.

Free moves rather elegant within the genre, a bass player with a highly developed ear for melody, an unrivaled technically gifted drummer, a singer who mastered all nuances from blistering raucous power to blue ballads soft as velvet.  And then there was the guitar player, one of the best England ever produced, the blessed Paul Kossoff.

Because Free was an instrumental trio + vocalist, Kossoff was saddled with a huge responsibility forced as he was to act both as soloist and team player, solo and rhythm guitar in one man played simultaneously.  As far as I can remember there is just one more band among the greats who mastered this demanding trio format, namely The Who.  The bands do not sound like each other at all, they were on completely different trips.  Kossoff could not match Townshend’s explosive power (and he had no Keith Moon to trigger it), but he was equally adept at switching between riffing and solos, and he had a sensitivity that was unique.

This sensitivity is what characterizes the subdued atmosphere of “Fire And Water”’.  Kossoff does throw a few punches here and there, but not until the closing track “All Right Now” does the band really ignite and reveal what a magnificent powerhouse they were, and they also remind you what you have been missing all through the album.  A little more fire and a little less water would have turned “Fire And Water” into a classic.  However, one should be thankful for the fact that the album includes the full version of “All Right Now” (the single is an edit).  That riff is definitely in the same league as Purple’s “Smoke On The Water”.

So “Fire And Water” is not Free’s best album, far from it, but it is still a delight to listen to.  Me, I’m glad it exists.

Released: June 26, 1970
(All tracks written by Andy Fraser and Paul Rodgers unless otherwise stated.)

Side One
“Fire and Water” – 4:02
“Oh I Wept” (Rodgers, Kossoff) – 4:26
“Remember” – 4:20
“Heavy Load” – 5:19
Side Two
“Mr. Big” (Fraser, Rodgers, Kirke, Kossoff) – 5:55
“Don’t Say You Love Me” – 6:01
“All Right Now” – 5:32

Paul Rodgers – vocals
Paul Kossoff – guitars
Andy Fraser – bass guitar, piano
Simon Kirke – drums
Produced by: Free and John Kelly
Co-producer: Roy Thomas Baker

First published in Pattaya Mail on Sep 26,2013.