Janet Beveridge Bean and Catherine Irwin have been recording and performing as Freakwater for nearly 30 years. They were some of the first musicians to explicitly marry the bluegrass aesthetic with the punk rock ethos. Their songs embrace the American working class aesthetic with no smirk of irony, but without the blind worship of the recent convert, either. They're the brainy, down-to-earth great-aunts of alt-country; let's all grow up to be like them.
Scheherazade is Freakwater's first studio album in a decade, and they've never been better. Bean, Irwin and bassist David Wayne Gay are joined by band newbie Jim Elkington, and have made a magnetic song cycle worthy of its title. Bean and Irwin's distinctive, almost dissonant harmonies are matched by the quality of the songwriting here; both have honed their skills during the hiatus, and it shows.
The songs on Scheherazade are original, though richly informed by traditional Americana. Most of them sound like they could be from any time in the last 80 years. Some recall specific periods of music: "Velveteen Matador" passes as outlaw country, while "Take Me With You" is old-timey as heck. It could all be pastiche, until one realizes that the lyrics and arrangements are just too weird for any other time but now. (Bloodshot)