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Freakwater

Despite their alternative rock pedigree and their home on a label better known for experimental music, Freakwater was one of the most traditionally grounded bands on the alternative country scene. Singers/guitarists/songwriters Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Ann Irwin mix original material (with a contemporary lyrical perspective) and traditional covers, all done in a spare, acoustic country-folk style with close vocal harmonies. Their instrumentation often features string band staples like steel guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and Dobro, and the strong Appalachian overtones that result have often drawn the duo comparisons to the Carter Family. Freakwater originally formed in Louisville, Kentucky, as an informal partnership; Irwin and Bean had played in local punk bands, became roommates in 1982, and first performed together publicly the year afterward. Meanwhile, Bean co-founded the noisy, Neil Young-influenced alt-rock band Eleventh Dream Day with boyfriend and future husband Rick Rizzo serving as the group's drummer; they soon moved to Chicago, and spent the late '80s and early '90s crafting a series of underappreciated, critically acclaimed albums. Bean and Irwin continued to perform together, however, on an informal basis, and in 1988 were approached by Amoeba label head Keith Holland about recording.

Choosing the name Freakwater -- a term for moonshine -- the duo cut a self-titled, EP-length record, which was released by Amoeba in 1989 (a year before Uncle Tupelo's seminal No Depression kick-started the alt-country movement). Upright bassist David Gay became the anchor of the duo's instrumental support team and remained with the group for the next decade. Their first true full-length, Dancing Under Water, was completed in 1991, but disagreements with Holland led to Amoeba seizing control of the masters and denying the duo any royalties. With Bean still heavily involved in Eleventh Dream Day, Freakwater completed Feels Like the Third Time in 1993, and finally found a home on the Thrill Jockey label, an independent more noted for its avant-garde, often electronic artist roster. Thrill Jockey finally released Feels Like the Third Time in 1995, the same year of the group's critical breakthrough, Old Paint. Benefiting from increased attention due to Eleventh Dream Day's hiatus, Old Paint led many critics to hail Freakwater as one of the best, most authentic-sounding alt-country artists around. They were offered a deal with Steve Earle's Warner-associated label, but ultimately turned it down to remain with Thrill Jockey.

Bean and Irwin consolidated their reputation on 1998's Springtime, which featured multi-instrumentalist Max Johnston of Wilco lending support. Sessions for 1999's End Time were reportedly difficult, but the record was yet another acclaimed outing, and featured all original material for the first time. It also saw the band expanding its sound with additional instrumentation and even a drum kit. Freakwater remained quiet for a few years, and 2002 found both Bean and Irwin working on solo albums for Thrill Jockey. Irwin's Cut Yourself a Switch appeared in late 2002, while Bean and her backing band, the Concertina Wire, issued Dragging Wonder Lake in early 2003. In 2005, Freakwater reconvened with producer Tim Rutili and members of Califone to release Thinking of You, continuing with the new group sound introduced on End Time.

After the release of Thinking of You, Bean and Irwin both pursued low-key solo careers, while Bean continued to record and perform with Eleventh Dream Day. In 2012, Thrill Jockey reissued Feels Like the Third Time, and Bean and Irwin celebrated with a reunion tour that found their sweet and sour harmonies were as effective as ever. Following more live dates, Freakwater struck a deal with respected "insurgent country" label Bloodshot Records, and in February 2016 the group brought out its first album in over a decade, Scheherazade. ~ Steve Huey
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Springtime

1. Picture In My Mind

2. Louisville Lip

3. Twisted Wire

4. Washed In The Blood

5. Binding Twine

6. One Big Union

7. Harlan

8. Jesus Year

9. Scamp

10. Lorraine

11. Slowride

12. Heaven

13. Flat Hand

x

Track List: Dancing Under Water

1. A Song You Could Cry For

2. Great Potential

3. Rank Strangers

4. Blood And Fire

5. Selfishness In Man

6. Fill My Thermos

7. You're Still On My Mind

8. Your Goddamn Mouth

9. Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake

10. Scratches On The Door

11. Wild And Blue

12. Annabelle Lee

13. Dark As A Dungeon

x

Track List: End Time

1. Good For Nothing

2. Cloak Of Frogs

3. Sick, Sick, Sick

4. Just Like You

5. Cheap Watch

6. My History

7. When The Leaves Begin To Fall

8. Written In Gold

9. Dog Gone Wrong

10. Queen Bee

11. Raised Skin

12. All Life Long

x

Track List: Feels Like The Third Time

1. My Old Drunk Friend

2. Put My Little Shoes

3. Forgettable Song

4. Crazy Man

5. Pale Horse

6. You Make Me

7. You've Never Been This Far Before

8. Dream Girl

9. Sleeping On Hold

10. Amelia Earhart

11. Are You Ready

12. Lullaby

x

Track List: Old Paint

1. Gravity

2. Smoking Daddy

3. Gone To Stay

4. Little Black Train

5. Waitress Song

6. My One Desire

7. White Rose

8. Out Of This World

9. Kentucky House

10. Hero/Heroine

11. Ugly Man

12. Burying Geraldine

x

Track List: Scheherazade

1. What The People Want

2. The Asp And The Albatross

3. Bolshevik And Bollweevil

4. Down Will Come Baby

5. Falls Of Sleep

6. Take Me With You

7. Velveteen Matador

8. Skinny Knee Bone

9. Number One With A Bullet

10. Memory Vendor

11. Missionfield

12. Ghost Song

x

Track List: Thinking Of You...

1. Right Brothers

2. Cricket Versus Ant

3. Bucket Of Oil

4. So Strange

5. Loserville

6. Cathy Ann

7. Double Clutch

8. Sap

9. Jack The Knife

10. Jewel

11. Upside down

12. Hi Ho Silver

Comments

Report as inappropriate
I SAW FREAKWATER COUPLE MONTHS AGO; THEY PLAYED FEELS LIKE THE THIRD TIME ALL THE WAY THROUGH IN CELEBRATION OF ITS 20 YEAR MARK. WOW!!!!! GREAT BAND; AND AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, FRIENDLY AND VERY DOWN TO EARTH.
Report as inappropriate
Freakwater is great. I started a Freakwater station today, and not only didn't Pandora play a single Freakwater song, but it kept playing the same "similar artists", which are really not all that similar, over and over and over!!! Just mainstream Americana and mainstream alt-country. Thanks for nothing, Pandora.
Report as inappropriate
wow!!!!!!

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