In 1979, Graham Parker notoriously flipped the bird at his former label, Mercury Records, by writing the scathing tune, “Mercury Poisoning.” The venomous attack couldn’t have been nastier with lyrics like, “Their promotion’s so lame / They could never ever take it to the real ball game.”
These days, battles between artist and label are commonplace, but way before Prince was scrawling the word, “Slave” on his cheek, Parker was drawing up the blueprint for future corporation dissers. Unfortunately, Parker may have been the one who was hurt the most from “Poisoning.” He still puts out strong records that collect critical praise, but he has fallen from major labels’ good graces. Parker now puts out records on labels like Bloodshot and his own Up Yours! Records.
Early on singer/songwriter Tom Freund’s new “Copper Moon” CD, we hear an attempt to reopen the Mercurial battles of years gone by. On “Mercury,” Freund spits, “I’m not into takin’ the progress that you’re makin’, I’m not much into consumerism.” Package these jabs with the fact that Freund is Graham Parker’s touring bass player and that Tom was once himself on a Mercury subsidiary label, Red Ant, and you can only guess that this album is going to be laced with payback rants. But fortunately, both for the record and for Freund’s career, the acid reflux stops there. Even better news is that Freund has found a more positive way to be Parkeresque: he made an album that is all at once addictive, stylistically diverse and honest to the core.
Freund has been a journeyman on the pop music landscape. He first teamed up with Ben Harper in 1992 and the duo released one album together. His next stint was with The Silos as their bass player, followed by the release of his “North American Long Weekend” solo record on the Red Ant label and “Sympatico,” which was released on his own Surf Road Records. “Copper Moon,” Freund’s third album (also on Surf Road), benefits from the experience of all of his musical travels.
The album’s first song and title track emerges with guitar cries that hearken back to the sound that made U2’s “The Joshua Tree” unforgettable. It closes with another moon song, “New Moon of the 7th Sun,” whose piano and orchestra arrangement is a subtle throwback to The Beatles’, “Let It Be.”
In between are songs that nestle other pop references (doesn’t “Babysitter (I’ll Watch Her)”sound a bit like Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”?), but Freund’s deadpan voice and phrasing make his offerings truly unique. And daring. Few artists would insert a tempo-halting chorus into a standup bass driven jazz song the way Freund and his production team does on, “Comfortable In Your Arms.” The move is disruptive and in most hands the song would be a disaster. Instead, it just sounds right.
Not to be outdone on the wordage side of things, Freund laces his songs with tales that are revealing and compact. Self-examining lyrics like, “You learn the term bachelor / From many generations of unhappy men,” (on “C’est La Vie”) paint a colorful picture of this songwriter’s lovelorn psyche. His lyrics are lean and trimmed of all the fat that a lesser skilled tunesmith may have failed to remove.
There is also a bright side of “Copper Moon” where songs like “October Girl” and the aforementioned, “Babysitter (I’ll Watch Them)” burst with radio-ready pop catchiness. Either song would easily fit in to any FM adult format lineup, and bolster it to boot. Should commercial radio shy away, soundtrack producers, who continue to surface so much great indie music, should jump on these gems. For an artist like Freund, having success come from your songs being used as background music to say, a make out scene on “The OC” may be hard to swallow, but it sure as hell beats the isolating effects of “Mercury Poisoning.”
For more information on Tom Freund, visit http://www.tomfreund.com.
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