Like a good friend, roots music always welcomes you back. In 1989, Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Ann Irwin of Freakwater found their home in Hank Williams’s simple style of guitar twang and lyrical emphasis on lonesome, beer-filled nights. It’s been six years since Freakwater released End Days, but with Thinking of You, the band’s distinctive blend of roots and country music is just as good as it was ten years ago.
Thinking of You finds Bean and Irwin back together after each released solo records — both on Thrill Jockey, both falling short of Freakwater’s brighter shores. This time, Bean and Irwin called on musicians from Chicago’s Califone as well as producer Tim Rutili to help create a rich country sound that is far more engrained in its roots than any of Freakwater’s previous releases. The result? An album that is timeless in its recording and poetic in its songwriting.
Those familiar with Freakwater know that the way Bean’s and Irwin’s voices dance around each other is like none other. The warming slide guitar, shuffling barroom piano with twang-y vocals telling stories of barfly losers in “Loserville” is exactly what you would expect from Bean and Irwin, only now it’s richer in its production. “Hi Ho Silver” only scrapes the breadth of Thinking of You’s power, but it’s a fine closer to an album that rarely has a down moment. Thinking of You is a collection of a dozen roots-drenched tracks strongly performed by two wonderful country musicians who have been away for too long.
With the band taking such a long hiatus, it’s natural to expect something extremely amazing or completely disappointing. The members of Freakwater deliver neither of these, instead releasing an album that is true to their form and typical in structure to their previous six releases. Thinking of You leaves me with one question: Has Freakwater’s climax already come, or is this something that can keep brining us back to roots music’s warm hallways?