Album Review: Alex Chilton – Free Again: The 1970 Sessions




One thing that instantly resonates about Alex Chilton‘s latest release is the fact that these “sessions” are from a hazy, important moment after Chilton’s somewhat straitjacketed Box Tops days and helped fuel the creative wonder to be found in his later Big Star work. Featuring six previously unreleased songs as well as the 12 track LP that constituted the now out of print Rhino-released 1970, it’s a window into a particularly interesting point in Chilton’s life, tellingly explained in the lyrics of the swaying “Free Again”: “I’m free again to sing my songs again, free again to end my longing to be out on my own again.”

The record was mixed and engineered by Terry Manning in Memphis’ Ardent Studios and carries something of the looseness of the studio’s atmosphere. “Come on Honey” is a bluesy rock composition and a perfect coalescing of guitar and keys that builds up to a short jam session, which is then stripped back to a scuzzy sound on “All I Really Want is Money”, which, along with “Free Again” and “I Wish I Could Meet Elvis”, seem like sardonic meditations on Chilton’s previous Box Tops days.

Those songs carry something of the spectre of his previous unhappy band days and yet are still fleshed out to create something more meaningful. A perfect example is the schizophrenic “Every Day as We Grow Closer”, which is a delicately driving Big Star-like song that includes a short bluesy jam at the end. However, true meaning is really to be found on “The EMI Song (Smile For Me)”, which is an exquisite love song that exhibits not only Chilton’s unfettered romanticism but also his creative talent (and is where his vocal seems most sincere). It evolves, beginning tentatively, like a newborn foal finding its legs, until the layers of guitars, percussion, and luscious piano draw the thing out into the open.

That song– and others like “The Happy Song” (recalling “Here Comes the Sun”-era Beatles)– evidences where Chilton’s real passion lay, and though he could produce a brilliant cover of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and inhabit straight up R&B infused rock, it didn’t really inhabit him. These sessions are a timely reminder of the musician and the man Chilton wanted to become: the musician who would provide us a sense of magic through a lifetime of perseverance.

Essential Tracks: “Come on Honey”, “The EMI Song (Smile For Me)”