Isaac Freeman
Beautiful Stars

You might call it uncommon for an artist to record their first solo project at age 73. But it’s right in character for Isaac "Dickie" Freeman, for this uncommon man has had anything but a common life.

Isaac Freeman CDGiven one of the lowest bass voices in all of Gospel, Freeman joined renowned Nashville-based acappella quartet The Fairfield Four in 1948, stepping into the huge shoes of Rufus Carrethers who had abruptly departed the group.

The rest is history, as the Alabama native wowed the crowds for decades, both in his first two years with the group (he left in 1950), and also when he rejoined them in the early 1980’s.

On Beautiful Stars, his solo debut from Lost Highway Records, he connects with renowned Nashville blues collective, The Bluebloods. The results are astonishing. Having anchored in quartet format for decades, here he exults in the freedom of solo sailing.

Eleven studio cuts are included (ten are traditional), and all are excellent. This is the sort of material that you can play over and over and over, and gain an even deeper appreciation on every listen. And just when you think you’ve memorized the song, you listen again and find there’s even more. By adding brief and judicious spoken intros and anecdotes to a few songs, Freeman personalizes without becoming intrusive.

Isaac Freeman CD“When We Bow In The Evening On The Altar” is an exhilarating interpretation of the family hymn, with Freeman demonstrating his remarkable range and ably backed by the two McCrary sisters (Regina and Ann) —daughters of the late Rev. Sam McCary, leader of the Fairfield Four. The Bluebloods offer an appropriate supporting ride of guitar, bass and drums.

The McCrarys step in again with classic backing support on “Because He Lives”, with the Bluebloods stepping it up a little with occasional instrumental interludes and impressive piano stylings from Matt Rollings. Again Freeman is superb.

The audio equipment quite literally rattles when Freeman sings on cuts such as “Don’t Drive Your Children Away” and “You Must Come In At The Bottom”, written especially for Freeman by Garrison Keillor.

On this latter cut, on top of a sparse and steady dry beat, the lyrics use double meaning to great effect, bringing in references to bass singing. In comparison, Freeman makes James Earl Jones sound like a chipmunk:

You must begin at the bottom,
For His mercy you will know
He’ll raise you high on the day you die
But you have to start out low…

—from “You Must Come In At The Bottom”

There are so many other gems in this crown collection. Another one is “Heaven On My Mind”. With basic rhythm shuffle, bass and piano underneath, it’s a tribute to members of the Fairfield Four gone to Glory.

Isaac Freeman's voice is as resoundingly deep as ever, and sometimes startlingly so. This record is pure legacy, and an absolute must-have.

Producer: Kieran Kane, Jerry Zolten
original album release date: October, 2001 (re-release for Feb 2002)
Lost Highway Records

— reviewed by Stan North

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