“I Could Still Go Free”
Our favorite (and maybe only?) Irish reader, Irishlad, mentioned a clip of the Crabb Family singing the old Hinsons classic “I Could Still Go Free” and so I went and tracked it down. Take a look (the embed feature has been disabled, but it’s worth clicking through to).
I remember this moment vividly from NQC 2005. In my live blogging, I called it a “
Listening to this song, I realized that this is exactly what people must have felt like when the Goodmans and the Hinsons and Hemphills were in their heyday. In other words, this is something that won’t last, and we shortshrift it at everyone’s peril.
How much of a prophet you think this makes me probably depends on your feelings about Crabb Family music and their pseudo-dissolution in the intervening years since I wrote that. No matter, I think the song wears well after these handful of years. With distance and time, the Crabbs sound a lot flatter a lot more of the time during the performance than I would have recalled from unaided memory (Mike Bowling is badly out of shape here vocally, and Terah Crabb Penhollow and esp Kelly Bowling have a lot of trouble placing big pitches). But that hardly matters. There is live music and then there live music and this is palpably alive.
Partly it’s the performers, to be sure, but revisiting the performance on youtube, I’m struck by how strong a piece of music the song is. If “I’ve Got a Feeling” is a lyrically weak and melodically flaccid song that the Hinsons bring to real life by the power of their vocal ability and musical charisma, “I Could Still Go Free” is a great composition that elevates the singers who attempt it to the song’s level. It’s lyrically strong, melodically captivating, and rhythmically enthralling.
Take the chorus – a study in carefully calibrated religious musical experience. Notice how the beginning of the chorus rides the four of the chord for four hard bars – two longer than we expect in conventional country-gospel arrangements. This creates the illusion of a modulation and so amps up the intensity. We’re reading for a big ride. Only, the song pulls back, and by the fifth bar we’re back to the tonic of the original key. That energy built up by the faux-modulation doesn’t dissipate, though. Rather, it gets plowed back under into the rest chorus. It’s an abnormally long refrain (24-bars, instead of the more typical 18), so the extended middle portion has time to settle down into a meditative solo passage that lasts just long enough to make you think we’re going to get lost in the high weeds and then blamo! The ensembles soars back into that final three-phrase arc: “but then a man on the cross / He put me in his will / And said that I could still go free!” I just love the way the second of those three phrases keeps the emotional line taut by riding the one of the chord an extra bar, and so for just a few more beats denies us that reassuring dip down to the V7 that signals familiar, glorious gospel resolution. It’s gobsmackingly good.
The other thing that’s striking is how the band (esp the guitars) generates so much of the aliveness that makes the musical experience far, far greater than the sum of the vocalists, who technically struggle, but who nevertheless seem to find in and through the song that special live place where some singers on certain nights in the right moment go, accessing an expressive capacity whose effect transcends the technicalities of the pitch-pipe. And so, too, do we go with them, set free.
Update: Reader j-mo modestly proposes that I’m miscounting the time signature here:
The song is in 6/8 time, not 3/4. That means the chorus doesn’t ride the four of the cord for four bars, but rather two, which is actually pretty normal.
As I told j-mo, I have no reason to dispute this; I’ve always only ever been a music-theory hack. But I’m going to leave the original reading of the song as is, not because j-mo might not be right but b/c my underlying point - that the song exploits sg audience’s attraction to suspended resolutions (whether harmonic or emotional) - remains the same whether the tune is written in an elongated 3/4 or a standard 6/8.Email this Post