Freer Street

Tony Cuchetti

Farm To Label Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Despite being from Minnesota myself and believing I knew a little something about music from the frozen northland, I’d not come across Tony Cuchetti until his newest album, Freer Street, was sent my way. (Full disclosure: I am aware of JT Bates, drummer and percussionist on this record, as we were contemporaries at the same high school.)


Freer Street could be filed in a few places in the Americana section of the record store, but this is not the acoustic country blues and folk of early Dylan influence Spider John Koerner or Duluth’s Charlie Parr. Nor is it the Big Star-inflected roots-rock of The Jayhawks. In fact, this album often tends more toward an unadorned electric blues that had me thinking of locales somewhat further south down I-35 or the Mississippi River. With Cuchetti’s honest voice and firm planting within traditional idioms that also include soul and r&b, I found myself put in mind of some of the more electric/less folk-leaning Texas musicians, such as Robert Earl Keen without the country influence, or even Buddy Miller, who was born in the Midwest but ended up on the East Coast.


“The After” starts the album as an example of perhaps all of the above, a bluesy number with a bit of soul, Cuchetti’s voice strong and clear with a suitably melancholy undercurrent, and the instrumentation never remotely ostentatious. “Convince My Heart” is a more straight ahead blues song that wouldn’t be out of place in Chicago, Mississippi, or… Minneapolis. While maybe not as widely known for the blues as other genres, the Twin Cities has a deep history with the blues, frequently on display in the long-running and aptly-named Deep Blues Festival, a most worthy endeavor that I think may now be operating as the Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival. But I digress. This tune, written by Tim Probst, is full of understated swagger as Cuchetti tries to convince himself that the swagger is warranted, and despite a stinging solo it stays well away from Blues Hammer territory. Yes, that’s a Ghost World reference. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250


“Lay It On Me” is a cover of a soul song by Eddie Hinton done with taste and feeling, and throughout the entire record the band is classy and sympathetic. Guitarists Blair Krivanek and Erik Kiskinen know that a little restraint conveys much more than showboating, and the rhythm section of Nick Salisbury and the aforementioned JT Bates, who has also played with artists as divergent as Taylor Swift and Bon Iver, lock together and stay together. Gregg Inhofer lends some nice Hammond B3, which is featured prominently on this song.


Side A ends with “Stubborn Blues,” a tender lament for the marginalized and displaced, whether the condition is temporary or permanent. It’s a powerful rumination on how we treat each other during times of suffering, and features co-vocalist Aby Wolf. Side B fades in with “Heartbreak Town,” a funky r&b tune about the plight of the rural working class which, sadly, is a subject as timeless as the blues. With the Hammond B3 creeping around the edges and a warm, resonant drum sound, this song is as good an example as any of just how well Freer Street is recorded. And let me add that, as a fellow percussionist and graduate of Hopkins High School, I’m pleased to have my alma mater represented by drumming of such high caliber.


“I Never Knew” is as close as Freer Street gets to folk but, again, this is more Austin’s Continental Club than a coffeehouse on Dylan’s 4th Street. In fact, if you listen close you might hear a little Guy Clark in this wistful wayward father and son barroom tale. It may just be my favorite song on the album. Speaking of family, the cover features Cuchetti’s own grandfather, who lived in Detroit on the street from which the record takes its name.


“Hey Brother” is another slow-burning soul turn which takes its time suggesting that it’s past time to make some changes, and “Time Moves On” closes this diverse album with a bit of raucous southern rock. At eight songs, the album itself moves on quickly, a concise statement with no filler that never risks testing your patience.


For me, Americana lives or dies on honesty, both lyrically and musically, as these are by now a well-worn group of subgenres. If done from the heart and the gut, that wear can be an asset rather than a liability. Happily, Tony Cuchetti and his band are firmly on the right side of that equation. While I admit that I might prefer a bit more grit on occasion, and I lean more toward acoustic blues and folk than electric, I appreciate the compassion and sensitivity in Freer Street, as well as the assemblage of talented and intuitive musicians, and I’m happy to add this album to my collection of high quality music from Minnesota. It’s a collection that takes up a lot of shelf space these days.

Rating: B+

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