North American Long Weekend

Tom Freund

Red Ant Entertainment, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


I've often written in the last few months about the dearth of singer/songwriters on the market now. We seem to lose at least one each decade: Jim Croce in the '70s, Harry Chapin in the '80s, John Denver last year.

Into this void steps Tom Freund, a singer whose vocals sound like a cross between Daniel Johnston, Bob Dylan and Gordon Gano. His debut release, North American Long Weekend, is one that's short on energy but offers more than just a glimmer of hope for this newcomer.

Freund, whose resume includes time with The Silos, takes a very low-key approach to the 13 songs on this first solo effort. It is an effect that builds up with the listener in stages. On the first listen, you're bored to tears until there is a brief hint at life with an uptempo number. On the second listen, things become more manageable. By the third listen, everything seems like it always fell into place.

The songs on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 North American Long Weekend sing about hope in the midst of despair, and freedom in the middle of feeling trapped. (Admittedly, I don't have as solid a grasp on all the tracks; I lived with this tape for three days, and I still don't think I got all the nuances.) This is evidenced on the opening track "Digs," a relationship song which dares to tell the inamorata of one's life to stop trying to change everything about the other person. It takes a few listens to clearly get the message on this one, but when you do, it hits with all the power of an 18-pound sledgehammer.

Alienation creeps into the album on tracks like "More Than Necessary" and "27," the latter being one of my favorite tracks off the album. The search of finding yourself (and, if I heard correctly, finding someone to spend the rest of your life with) is a difficult path to explore; Freund (with the help of a band that bounces from acoustic folk to jazz to rock) at least lets the listener know that they're not alone. The Dylan influences rear their head on "Lady Jane," easily the prettiest number on the album.

But not everything on North American Long Weekend clicks. No matter how hard I tried, I simply could not get into (nor could I grasp the meanings of) "Trondheim" and "Holden Caulfield." It's not that they're bad songs, it's just that they seemed to lose their focus, which kept the listener from finding theirs. (For that matter, when most of the songs on an album are played at a tempo which rivals a New Orleans funeral march, slightly faster-tempoed songs peppered throughout the album would have been quite welcome.)

In fact, the only faster-tempoed number - the title track - works the best among the whole batch of songs. It's not that Freund should abandon slower-tempoed numbers, but when they make up the bulk of the album, it tends to drag down the project quickly. Granted, repeated listens help matters - but not every listener is going to be willing to give any album that much leeway.

The only other point where a listener will have to grow into North American Long Weekend is in the category of Freund's vocals. They are distinctive, to say the least - a combination of strained, passioned delivery and a bit of a bleat to them, not unlike Dylan.

North American Long Weekend shows that the journey of a thousand miles was not completed with this album, but Freund has a pretty good start on the road to becoming the singer/songwriter for the '90s and beyond.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Red Ant Entertainment, and is used for informational purposes only.