FreeRange Chester
by Ray D'Ariano

Track listing:
1. Mariah 2. Strength 3. If I Go 4. The Fisher King 5. Actual Love 6. Satellite
7. All She Wants To Do Is Sing 8. No Place Called Heaven 9. The Only Dance There Is

Used to be you heard new rock on the radio, first on Top 40 AM stations then on album-friendly progressive FM. Next it was MTV, and now . . . hell, anything goes internet downloads, satellite and college radio, a burned disc that a friend turns you onto, or independent CD's sold on the artists' own web sites. Point is, new music is all over the place. This is a good thing because we are no longer restricted to the certain few artists the record companies decide they will allow us to hear and guide us to support.

So if you keep your ears and eyes open, you never know where or when you'll hear something sensational, like the day I was at Woodbury Commons, a sprawling upscale shopping complex surrounded by blue sky and beautiful lush mountains. It's a very unique environment and a very unlikely place to see a great rock and roll band. It wasn't the second stage at Ozzfest or the makeshift performance area next to a cow pasture at a Warped tour. It was on a lovely pavilion in the middle of this Disney World for affluent bargain hunters. The band was surrounded by the likes of Versage, Armani, and Brooks Brothers and they were invisible to 99% of the potential audience who just strolled by with their designer shopping bags on the hunt for their next purchase.

As my bride and I approached the bandstand, we heard the group mid-song and she joked, "Bruce Springsteen." Since it was a basic guitar group with a sax wailing and a singer with a deep, coarse voice, her observation was dead on. I decided to check them out while she visited a few other merchants. So I shared a modern metal picnic table that looked like something from the Museum of Modern Art, with a middle-aged Oriental woman in Gucci sunglasses, who was eating a frozen yogurt, and took in the band.

A banner with the name "FreeRange" was draped behind them. They looked like the E Street Band, jeans and black t-shirts. They were all around that age too, and after sizing them up for a few minutes I knew that they could be a Springsteen tribute band if they wanted to. I mean, the musicianship was there along with the vocal power, and they had a sensational sax player. So it would be easy to call themselves The River, or Badlands and do "Born In The USA" in all those little seaside bars, but the comparison ends there.

FreeRange are originals with their own material and, something rare these days . . . their own sound.

They put together their own arrangements on some unique covers of other artists' material. Warren Haynes or Phish are the only artists I can think of who would tackle Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill," but these guys did it and made it their own.

So I'm digging it, you know what a pleasant and unexpected surprise and then they break into a light reggae-type tune that turned out to be called "If I Go." I'm thinking . . . who did this? The Dead? No, maybe it's a Phil Lesh and Friends album cut. I can't put my finger on it, but it's sensational. While McCartney is charging 300 bucks a pop to sit up close at his show, and the Boss is out on his own leaving The E Street Band home to mow their lawns, here's a generally unknown rock band "hitting the note" on a small stage in a shopping center! You never know where you'll hear great music.

So after the set I went over to congratulate them on a great set and to inquire about that song. I wanted to buy the CD by whoever did it originally. Turns out it was an original written by their singer, David Frye, who writes all of their stuff and it appears on their CD, recorded in 2002 called, "Chester." I bought a copy from Russell Richter, keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist, who was kind enough to run back to his car in the lot to secure it for me. You can't make this stuff up . . . it's only rock and roll.

The CD is singer-songwriter, American rock and roll. Bart Crum's sax work, especially his alto sax, gives it a totally unique flavor. Like I said, these guys have their own sound. It has great lyrics sung in a straight forward manner, backed with gruff, yet beautiful workingman's harmonies. It grooves, not in a pretentious Steely Dan manner, but in a gritty, take no prisoners cruise down the Garden State Parkway style.

The tune that knocked me out live, "If I Go," is the third cut here. Reggae mixed with sax and a Joe Cocker and the Grease Band at Woodstock organ riff going on before David Frye's articulate that's the word, soulful and articulate vocal styling, then a little musical changeup and in double time . . . "If I go, I go with you" . . . oh child, more smooth Grease Band organ and a warning, "Don't fall in love with me." Killer, killer, killer cut! You have to experience this for yourself. It is the FreeRange sound, no other band sounds like this. I don't know, there's maybe a little Widespread Panic, but that's only a frame of reference, it has to be heard and that's that.

The CD starts off with "Mariah" driving guitars, a touch of Celtic, and a pinch of Buddy Holly with passionate vocals and production. Is there such a thing as a Jersey shore jam band that isn't from Jersey? You know what I'm saying? How do you describe this sound? You've got hard-boiled harmonies over guitar and tinkling piano, all playing off extremely hot sax and it's a song about a chick, yes indeed. On the first cut they are saying, lets get something straight right from the get-go . . . we are a rock and roll band, plain and simple. Welcome!

There are nine tracks all together and each one is worthy of a hit single if the business was still run that way. "Chester" is one of the 21st century's great rock and roll albums.

Another cut, "Satellite," sounds like an outtake from "The Wind, the Innocent, and The E Street Schuffle" with a vocal that's a cross between the Boss and David Bowie all mixed with sax, harmonies and the constant bar band back beat. It's subtle and sucks you in, and by the time it breaks down even further, you are trapped . . . "Or the light reflecting off the tears of God. " Ok yeah, just a line from a little lyric from a CD by a band at the shopping mall . . . uh huh. You starting to get this? If so, you can buy the CD from: