Shuggie Otis - Freedom Flight

Shuggie Otis
Freedom Flight

Released 1971 on Epic
Reviewed by Graveyard Poet, 05/12/2013ce

Shuggie Otis is a guitar genius whose talents were not fully recognized until decades after his seminal work was created. Freedom Flight is a gritty, visceral, and organic entity--a collaborative live-in-the-studio experience.

Recorded when he was only 17 years old (!), Freedom Flight seems like the craftsmanship of a veteran because his father, Johnny Otis, nicknamed the "King of Rock'n'Roll" and the "Godfather of Rhythm & Blues", was at the helm, playing percussion, singing backing vocals, and producing. It was his seasoned experience at the controls which gives this album such a simultaneously earthy and timeless presence. Its running time is only 38 minutes yet it's such a lush listening voyage.

Barreling out onto the streets with "Ice Cold Daydream", the funky organ and fiery guitar could be the accompaniment to a car chase scene--soundtrack to a lost Blaxploitation film, similar to Curtis Mayfield's score for Superfly.

Shuggie's greatest song, the poetic love ballad "Strawberry Letter 23", is audio bliss, one of the most perfectly produced tracks in pop music history.

Tinkling bells and crystalline celeste, carnival organ, and Shuggie's soaring guitar--a celestial companion piece to Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing". The kaleidoscopically colorful lyrics are an ode to his young muse. Shuggie's exquisitely arpeggiated guitar chords set sail for distant horizons, psychedelic phasing and sweeping soloing echoing off faraway to those cherry clouds he sees in his teenage lover's eyes.

While "Strawberry Letter 23" is airy and ethereal, the innocence of one's first love, "Sweet Thang" (co-written with Shuggie's father) is a dark, down'n'dirty, and swampy groove, Shuggie's bottleneck guitar and the deeply soulful background female vocalists laying down an atmosphere thick as molasses--a primitive ambiance close to Funkadelic's "Music For My Mother".

"Me And My Woman" is a standard blues song about how unpredictable women can be in a man's eye bolstered by wah-wah guitar from Shuggie and a block rockin' rhythm section, heavy on Wilton Felder's bass beats.

"Someone's Always Singing" ushers in the return of female background vocalists Venetta Fields, Clydie King, and Sherlie Matthews--the awe-inspiring women who elevated Gene Clark's No Other to such transcendent heights. It's a spiritual song, gospel in style, which tells you no matter how hard life gets, you've gotta keep on keepin' on. It fades out with furious flute playing (Jethro Tull's Aqualung, released that same year, comes to mind.)

"Purple" is a slow burning blues jam accented by George Duke's smoky Hammond organ and James Bradshaw's down home harmonica, givin' you vibes of the closing song after hours at a bar or back porch smokin' and drinkin' 'round a bonfire.

The title track, "Freedom Flight", gracefully stretches out over its thirteen incandescent minutes, fading in quietly with gentle wind chimes which continue throughout this hypnotic and entrancing improvisation. George Duke's evocative Fender Rhodes, Richard Aplanalp's sighing tenor saxophone, and Shuggie's mystical, floating guitar explorations summon the same late night studio magic as Miles Davis' In A Silent Way.

You could listen to those enchanting guitar textures forever.

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