Having released their first two albums in 1969, Free entered Trident Studios london in 1970 to record what can become their breakthrough album. Because of the timeless single ‘All Right Now’, Fire and Water reached 2nd in england and 17 in the US. This success landed them a location in the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and propelled them to stardom.
While ‘All Right Now’ has been the standout single, the album overall elevates them over the standard ‘blues rock’ genre. This is the band confident with space with each other. The album is relaxed and care-free and there is no overplaying by anyone. In case you compare Free to Led Zeppelin for example, you will see having less drum fills, vocal gymnastics and showcase guitar licks. Each track is often a lesson in interaction and subtlety. Exactly how this band communicate is greater as opposed to sum of the parts plus it all comes down to simplicity.
For your album Simon Kirke simply lays along the groove with authority then when he is doing fill it’s almost exclusively eighth notes or quarter notes. You’ll find nothing unnecessary, it is simply powerful and minimal. Even in his drum solo at the conclusion of the title track ‘Fire and Water’ he refuses to showcase.
Paul Rodgers’ vocals are sublime. He doesn’t require to employ wailing vibrato or sing more notes than should be made. Again it’s simple and soulful, perhaps most evident on ‘Don’t Say You like Me’. Lyrically the songs are personal and intimate, deeply rooted from the blues.
Traditionally bass solos are usually marked through the remaining portion of the band stopping, and letting the bassist exhibits his licks now that he can finally be heard. That is not true here though. Hear ‘Mr Big’ and check out how Kossoff and Kirke relentlessly thrash the groove while Andy Fraser plays a number of the funkiest and many melodic bass playing ever, gradually building up tension for him to lower into the low octave just like the band overall attain the peak. It is a perfect battle of tension and resolution which leads us satisfyingly into the chorus.
Free’s effective usage of space and restraint isn’t better shown than in Paul Kossoff’s guitar work. His solos are sparse and melodic, and his awesome chordal jobs are intriguing, notable and powerful. Is the only musician he fills up space through the use of wide intervals in his chord voicings or by having a supplementary fifth into his power chords, sometimes both lower and higher. Also, he makes effective utilisation of the open strings. While he goes into a solo, Andy Fraser jumps in so helping to fill adequate of this newly discovered space to present Kossoff the liberty to experience with a sparseness rarely found amongst ‘rock’ guitarists.
The result of this is Free seem like more than simply a typical guitar trio plus vocalist. These are constantly reaching and supporting the other person, never getting in the way. Things are all woven together in ways that shows a maturity way beyond their years during recording. Free are a band totally free of gimmicks. Their music is pure, soulful and exciting. In later albums their sound became more piano led as Kossoff’s drug habit got in how, but Fire and Water is the sound of Free in their peak, where everything clicked into place. If you need to learn to play within a band, hear this album.