From doing to being
It’s a good thing that I listened to this album before I read anything about it. A really good thing, simply because it gave me the chance to just listen to it and think about it before any background information might have changed my perspective.
If this had been “just another N.O.W. album” (if there is such a thing) it might have not made much of a difference. But “Shout Out! To Freedom…” clearly isn’t even close to anything that would lead to an impression of same old same old. It already starts with the looks of it. The super colorful psychedelic retro style that looks like someone tried out their skills on Corel Draw and the punctuation heavy title that underscores this impression clearly is a departure from what we’ve seen before. And just to be very clear about it, this description is in no way intended as criticism. I definitely see the cover art as part of the album’s concept and as a chance to understand that the album conveys a big message – but in a lighthearted, simple, clear and honest way.
After having heard all four sides of this remarkable album that comes in appropriately innocent and cheerful baby blue this impression is both underscored and expanded. Something changed, that’s what I thought. Something changed in a good way – and it’s not like the tracks on this album are somehow not representing a continuation of what George Evelyn has been doing over the course of the last three decades.
Some of the material is even continuing some a tradition as every album features a track that somehow continues the story that began with “Nights Interlude” in 1991. There’s always some sort of re-creation of it, or a piece that was somehow inspired by it. I thought it was a nice idea to keep returning to it, it didn’t feel like it was an exploitation or extension of the fame the original piece had brought. No wonder – I also really liked how Was (Not Was) had this habit of putting a version of “Out Come The Freaks” on every album they published.
Something else is different. Something more fundamental. The album is not just better than anything that has been published under the name of Nightmares on Wax for at least fifteen years (maybe even since “Carboot Soul”), it is more substantial and more authentic than most of what we’ve heard before. Which seems improbable as George Evelyn is an artist that puts all of his soul into his work.
It’s like the album of a man that had always felt like he was putting his self into his work only to find out that this might have not been the case, at least not as much as he might have been thinking, as if some kind of revelation might have happened, a moment when he had found out what it really means to shift the focus from doing to being.
What will have made the difference is what I did read about later – George Evelyn has not only passed the age of 50, he also had to deal with health matters serious enough to realize the possibility of death. As if the isolation and disruption of the Corona pandemic hadn’t been enough. But at least that seems to have had an unexpected upside after ten years of more or less continuously living on the road.
Today, we can not only be happy and thankful that the man is still very much alive – we can also celebrate the wonderful fact that the freedom this album is talking about is something that primarily must have spread within the artist himself, and this freedom is one of the main ingredients of this album.
Even the one track that picks up on that “Nights Interlude” tradition shines with it. “Imagineering” may be the latest spin on the original, but with an additional sprinkle of Jazz and a faint breeze carrying echoes of Cuba and Ravel it is just that much more ensouled than most of its predecessors.
An especially lovely touch of the album precedes this track though – the minute and a half “Shout Out! (Intro)” featuring Beautiful People. These people are none other than the fans who had been invited to leave a voice message stating the word “Freedom” in their home language as raw material for this track. I obviously participated, and just like all of the other fans that were part of this I am absolutely certain that my little “Freiheit!” is part of this collage. Somewhere around 0:43, that’s me. Must be.
Another really smart move George Evelyn made on this album was to reach out to other artists who must have been chosen on the basis of sharing this deep love of freedom and who are able to let all of the emotions that are connected to it be part of their performances on this album. Just listen to Haile Supreme on “Creator SOS” and you’ll understand.
Or on the larger than life Soul monster “Up To Us” that will give you a super heavy case of goosebumps. What the singer does on this song is a true gift to anyone who keeps hoping for the magic of Marvin Gaye and/or Curtis Mayfield to return to contemporary music. Haile Supreme brings both of them back to life in a single performance, and maybe even Smokey Robinson as well.
These two songs alone are enough to love this album. And there are thirteen more songs, featuring more wonderful artists, beautiful people all of them. Shabaka Hutchings for example, playing winds on the dramatic tribal Jazz skit “3D Warrior” and on “Wonder”, a song that seems to float on an ocean of friendly souls.
Personally, I am not necessarily sure what to make of “Wikid Satellites” featuring Greentea Peng. Somehow it seems to belong to an earlier album, not this one – and lyrics that border on supporting conspiracy theories (“Who decided to put fluoride in our water?”) may be put forward as another dimension of freedom, but for a brief moment I do feel alienated.
Luckily, this is followed up by “Breathe In” (featuring OSHUN) with its plush mix of early Massive Attack, classic N.O.W. and a generous orchestral layer. And “Isolated”, a piece that sounds as if George Evelyn might be wishing Koop had never stopped making music. Oh, yes, and “Trillion” with its big fat synth bass that makes drums totally obsolete – you gotta love it.
I really hope that people will not just pick one or two songs to add to their playlists but return to how an album should be enjoyed. From start to finish, as a complete experience. This album absolutely deserves a full listen. Ideally on vinyl, of course. It’s part of this timelessly soulful and warmhearted wonder. And a huge hug to George Evelyn. Beautiful.
Release for review:
NIGHTMARES ON WAX – SHOUT OUT! TO FREEDOM… – WARP – WARPLP321