Steve Freund has quite a background as a blues player. He moved to the Windy City years ago and dedicated himself to learning the music, and to becoming a formidable guitar handler. With a resume that includes many gigs and names; Sunnyland Slim, Big Walter Horton, Hubert Sumlin, Floyd Jones, among them, he's been around the block, and back more times than most of us have been out of the house. This brand new disc from the Delmark label adds yet another fine paragraph to an extensive 'been there, done that' list. Produced by Dave Specter, another top-shelf stringer, "I'll Be Your Mule" rolls smoother than a Cadillac fresh off the assembly line. From the tremolo and reverb-laden opening of the title track, Freund gets to the heart of the blues with some help from an impressive list of friends and cohorts.
One of the finer points here in this baker's dozen is seeing the maturity that has come with age, and while still a relatively young man, Freund writes with wit, passion, and deep feeling, and his voice has deepened and become a soulful tool that complements his stellar playing perfectly. Having penned 7 of the cuts, the rustling original, "Fittin' To Go," uses an 'Up The Line' groove to great effect, and it offers plenty of room for the guitars of Freund and Specter, plus some heady piano from Mark Braun. B.B. King's "Fine Lookin' Woman" and Lowell Fulson's "Hung Down Head" are treated with respect and sound fresh, while the comedic lyrics of "You Were A Good Old Ride" play foil to the glass shard, B.B. like guitar throughout. "Dollar A Mile," with Steve Guyger's tough harp, offers a look at a traveling bluesman who puts more time in behind the wheel than on the bandstand. The years with Albert Luandrew were a learning experience, and Freund offers tribute in the form of "When I Was Young," one of Sunnyland Slim's gems. Guitar Slim's "Something To Remember You By," with only guitar and piano, takes on a new, lowdown look and works very well, while Big Bill Broonzy's "Ramblin' Bill" bumps along with the old 'Bluebird beat' at the fore. A couple other fine Freund pieces are the slow and loose "My Life Is Changing," with more King-like guitar, the bristling "Big Blue Mama," and the soft and sweet "Bill Reed's Blues."
Steve Freund has grown into a bluesman worth his weight in sterling. He shines, simply by doing what he does best; playing tough and restrained guitar. With plenty of room for his guests, who include Pete Crawford, Dave Specter, Steve Guyger, and others, "I'll Be Your Mule" is a top-shelf addition to Delmark's catalog, and Freund's lengthy career notes. If you get the opportunity to see this class act, do yourself a favor and drive the distance. Until then, pick up this disc.
This review is copyright © 2001 by Craig Ruskey , and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.