Having released their initial couple of albums in 1969, Free entered Trident Studios in London in 1970 to record what can become their breakthrough album. Thanks to the timeless single ‘All Right Now’, Fire and Water reached number 2 from the UK and 17 from the US. This success landed them a location at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival and propelled these phones stardom.
While ‘All Right Now’ has been the standout single, the album all together elevates them over the standard ‘blues rock’ genre. This is really a band more comfortable with space is actually each other. The album is relaxed and care-free and there isn’t a overplaying by anyone. If you compare Free to Led Zeppelin one example is, you will observe the lack of drum fills, vocal gymnastics and exhibit guitar licks. Each track is usually a lesson in interaction and subtlety. The way that this band come together is in excess of the sum of the parts and yes it all depends upon simplicity.
For the complete album Simon Kirke simply lays on the groove with authority so when he does fill it’s almost exclusively eighth notes or quarter notes. There’s nothing unnecessary, it is just powerful and minimal. Even during his drum solo with the end of the title track ‘Fire and Water’ he refuses to display.
Paul Rodgers’ vocals are sublime. He doesn’t require to employ wailing vibrato or sing more notes than are needed. Again it is reasonably and soulful, perhaps most evident on ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’. Lyrically the songs are personal and intimate, deeply rooted inside blues.
Traditionally bass solos usually are marked through the rest of the band stopping, and letting the bassist reveals his licks ever since he can finally be heard. That’s not true here though. Listen to ‘Mr Big’ to see how Kossoff and Kirke relentlessly thrash out of the groove while Andy Fraser plays a number of the funkiest and the majority melodic bass playing ever, gradually developing tension for him to decrease down to the reduced octave just as the band overall reach the peak. It’s a perfect battle of tension and resolution leading us satisfyingly back into the chorus.
Free’s effective using space and restraint isn’t a better shown when compared to Paul Kossoff’s guitar work. His solos are sparse and melodic, with the exceptional chordal effort is interesting and powerful. Being really the only guitar player he fills up space by employing wide intervals within his chord voicings or by building an extra fifth into his power chords, sometimes both lower and better. He also makes effective utilization of the open strings. When he retreats into a solo, Andy Fraser jumps in so it helps to fill adequate of that new found space to offer Kossoff the freedom to learn with a sparseness rarely found amongst ‘rock’ guitarists.
The reaction to all of this is always that Free seem like more than just a typical guitar trio plus vocalist. They are constantly getting together with and supporting 1 another, never getting from the way. Everything is woven together in the shows a maturity way beyond their years on the time of recording. Free really are a band absolutely 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 within the way, but Fire and Water could be the sound of Free at their peak, where everything clicked into place. If you want to learn how to learn in a band, tune in to this album.