Pretty Free just bumped an album by a more familiar name from my end-of-year, favourite roots albums of 2020 list.
Narrative is at the award-winning Justin Farren’s core, each song communicating vignettes of personal experience: regrets, satisfaction, memories, and aspirations. Like Mark Erelli and Guy Clark before him, Farren injects his songs with a wry world view, no more so than on “Fixer Upper,” a tale of home improvement:
“If the bubble is between the lines, it’s level; if not, we’ll call it art.”
A do-it-yourself, reflective creation, Farren writes songs that appear deeply personal; the narrators of the lead tracks, “A Little Less Time” and “Eyes Be Healed,” are so invested in their observations that these can only be entrenched in experience. “Two Wheel Drive and Japanese” resonates whether one was born in ’82 or ’62; sage advice received; yes, we were asses back then.
“For the first time that night, I had nothing cool to say…”
Recorded in his backyard studio, Farren plays the majority of the instruments himself, crafting melodies for his innermost and original thoughts. The songs are true and proud, even when the message communicated in Farren’s unvarnished voice is self-deprecating or acutely pained. The insights aren’t cringe-inducing immaturity or boldly mistaken ‘too much information,’ but refreshing in for their honest simplicity. “No Such Things A Bad Day” is joyful, “Mama” contemplative, “Last Year Was The Best Year” warm, pensive, and thankful.
“It was a Sunday, so you were in bed by ten…”
Augmented by a cadre of friends, including drummer, bassist, vocalist, AND co-producer Brian Chris Rogers, Pretty Free retains individual intensity. Folks like Anna Tivel (violin and backing vox) and André Fylling (keys including organ) drop in for a song or three, as do family members. Truly, Pretty Free is the album I would be proud to make…if I had any modicum of talent or inspiration.
“…My Uncle Bill was a natural light, the kind you might not see ‘til you need it; just a low steady glow, you know it’ll burn all night—so you rest your bones and close your eyes…”
An album for ‘listening,’ Pretty Free demands the listener’s full attention. Not background music for the coffee shop then, these eleven songs require one to set aside the phone, the chores, and the book and actually LISTEN. Sure, lay back and relax, but remain engaged: Justin Farren has things to say—and you’ll want to hear them.