Alex Bleeker and The Freaks – Country Agenda (ALBUM REVIEW)

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bleekeralbumAlex Bleeker already has an exceedingly cool day job as bassist for Real Estate, one of the more esteemed indie  bands of the present era. But when he opted to also do his own thing with The Freaks, he was really able to spread his wings and express his individuality. Now, three Real Estate full length albums later and in cahoots with his combo The Freaks  — Bleeker (guitar, vocals), Alex Steinberg (guitar), Nick Lenchner (bass), Jacob Wold (keyboards) and Dylan Shumaker (drums) — he’s released his most definitive set of songs yet, one which may help establish his singular presence beyond his role alongside his Real Estate colleagues.

That said, Country Agenda isn’t quite the hootenanny its title suggests. While there are Americana elements evident in the music, Bleeker and company appear to filter it through the kaleidoscopic imprint of the Grateful Dead circa their early ‘70s turnaround with American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead. It’s notable not only for the breezy ambiance that pervades the album overall, but also for the good natured Dead-like ramble that marks songs such as “Portrait,” “Downright Stinson” and “UHM.” The occasional noodling on the frets and Bleeker’s casual vocals also help enforce the similarity, aiding and abetting their  populist appeal all at the same time.

The band’s handle, The Freaks, may also allude to a casual Deadhead connection, although hints of The Band — on the song “The Rest” in particular — work their way into the mix as well. Nevertheless, in listening to these tracks a certain herbal essence and hint of patchouli would certainly seem appropriate, given the overall vibe. There’s clearly an unhurried feel to these proceedings, so much so that the gospel sing-along “Turtle Dove” might have seemed like an intrusion. Happily, it’s as good natured as the rest of the set, making it feel right in sync with the tracks that fall before and after. Likewise, the scorching guitar that accents the title track isn’t as jarring as it might otherwise appear; rather it complements the steady pluck and picking that’s so exceedingly prominent in most of the arrangements overall.

Chances are, Alex Bleeker still has some time to go before he attracts the prominence he deserves.  Albums that are as laid back in tone as Country Agenda makes itself out to be don’t always get the ready recognition that’s so often their due. Regardless, it’s still a pleasant sojourn and a carefree respite, as easygoing and enjoyable as any rural retreat generally tends to be.

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