“Elijah (Reprise),” the closing number from the Robert Parker-fronted Freightrain’s new album Outside Ourselves, continues where we left off in “Elijah,” the song that opens the record, not by reviving the same material that we heard at the start of our musical journey alongside Freightrain, but rather through revisiting its opulent textures from a slightly different perspective. Perspectives are a big element within Outside Ourselves, as the music resigns itself to no clearly definable genre. Tracks like the rollicking jazz ballad “Better Man” and “You Found Me” are steeped in the same fluid approach to songwriting that the title track and “Elijah” are, but they present us with an entirely different vantage point to appreciate their calculated content. Acerbically crafted and stylishly versatile, Outside Ourselves simply doesn’t play by the same rules that most modern rock LPs do.
The backbreaking funk that comes roaring out of the remains of the title track in “Wake Up” sounds like it wants to evolve into something decidedly bluesier in nature, but the stoic bassline just isn’t having it. Between this song and the sexy swing of “Don’t Stop the Music,” we start to develop a feel for the depth of Parker’s musicality in this record, and it’s perhaps his most expansive and imaginative to date. The rhythms here are so contagiously designed that it’s hard to resist their funk, even when it’s saturated in a melancholy that speaks to the silent inhibition that all of us sometimes struggle with. There are moments of pure catharsis in Outside Ourselves, such as with “Dark Season Blues” and “I Still Believe,” but they’re always spliced with a tension that makes them so much more sophisticated and intriguing.
If you’ve been following Robert Parker for as long as I have, then you’re already aware of the litany of successes he’s racked up prior to the culmination of his Freightrain project. He brings all of his experiences to this disc, and as a result we’re given exclusive access to his creative process inside of the sterling songcraft that he shares here. “Wake Up,” “Better Man” and “Elijah (Reprise)” alone make up a masterclass in contemporary guitar virtuosity, but they don’t bear as much of a resemblance to the ripping solos and showmanship of Van Halen or Hendrix as you might think. This is virtuosity on a cerebral level, and I must admit, it’s hypnotizing to put it very mildly.
Outside Ourselves doesn’t try and impress us with the same war chest of melodic weapons that most rock musicians would employ when creating an album of its ambitious, urbane quality, but instead features artists at their most raw and unrefined, doing what they do better than most anyone on the planet does. Robert Parker and the Freightrain brand have proven time and time again that their contention isn’t just to get people hooked on their hybrid of surreal sounds but to spread the gospel of music and its most sacred pleasures to a world that is desperate for unity, and they continue to demonstrate their convictions in this excellent record. Simply put – this LP belongs on your stereo.