This is Freddie Nelson.
The Pittsburgh, PA rocker has been cranking out the tunes in his scene for many years.
His first major exposure came with Triple X, a big hair hard rock band that caught the tale end of the 80’s glam scene when a guitar solo and hot pants were all that was needed for a band to get signed.
Triple X formed in 1987 and saw moderate success within their own scene. Winning various ‘best metal band’ type accolades from the local competitions set the group to open for some of the bigger acts of the day (Motely Crue, Bullet Boys, Trixter) and aligned their trajectory for the stars. But like so many ‘almost made it’ stories, a constantly changing lineup coupled with a dramatic shift in what was ‘cool’ that came with the early nineties saw the band lose momentum and eventually disband in 1995.
A true sign of a musician, is someone who makes music no matter what level of ‘success’ it brings.
Guitarist Freddie Nelson exemplifies this spirit. After taking a few post-Triple X years off, he came back forming and fronting the band Too Tall Jones. A little more rock, a little less glam… this band found Freddie Nelson stepping out front to offer not only ripping guitar lines, but showcasing his developing vocal talents. The hard rocking unit put out one well received album called, ‘Bipolar’. This effort caught the attention of Paul Gilbert, the guitarist for Racer X and chart topping Mr. Big who recruited Nelson to help write and record songs for his solo album, “United States”. The well received album was praised as a cross between Queen and Mr. Big.
All this experience kept pushing Freddie Nelson towards the inevitable destination of releasing his own solo work. He began the process of writing the material that would be his debut release in 2015, but was again tapped by Paul Gilbert to collaborate on his then latest solo release, “I Can Destroy”.
Once Gilbert obligations were fulfilled, Nelson was finally free to pursue his own path. This wealth of groundwork came together in Freddie Nelson’s 2017 debut, “Shake The Cage”.
11 songs of singer-songwriter based rock and roll. Which translates to songs that are more defined by the lyrical content and overall takeaway vibe, than by show-off riffs or productions tricks. Solid ideas, often treading in footsteps well traced before him, are dressed up in Nelson’s vocal four-octave swagger. An occasional solo or quick guitar lick shines through, hinting at previous ‘guitar first’ attitudes that dominated some of his past work, but the bulk of the music offered on “Shake the Cage” focuses on that idea of ‘song’.
“Hey Doll” is one of the first releases to be offered up for consumption. A mid-tempo, saucy rocker that stumbles along into its catch all chorus. It starts out lanky smooth but jumps into the solid guitar jam that Nelson can’t help himself from including, and since his best talent is in his guitar chops, the track is made more worthy from its inclusion.
“Light” is another track that has been featured with a lyric video and put into circulation. Following an even more traditional structure, the song is reminiscent of the late 50’s and early 60’s drive-in make-out session pop rock.
While that number shows a nod from Nelson towards more old-school song writing approaches, it is somewhat misleading and mis-matched to some of the more hard rocking material that can be found on “Shake The Cage”.
Songs like the disc opener, “Turn You On” bang on that hard rock beat from which Nelson was bred. Sassy vocal taunts and incendiary guitar licks combine to deliver something instantly accessible and immediately rock-able.
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Another tight rocker is, “All Night Long”… a sexy snaking guitar riff against some crazed keys sets up the vocal tease of the chorus.
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It makes one curious as to why “Hey Doll” and “Light” seem to be the first two released singles. While solid enough songs, they show Nelson spicing up traditional structures, whereas the bulk of the album flows more into a contemporary hard-radio-rock. This does show a degree of ‘range’ that Nelson possesses, but also challenges the listener to check out multiple songs to truly get a sense of what this artist is putting on the table.
“My Girl” is a catchy rock song that bridges the difference between something familiar and where Nelson takes it with his own style.
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A couple of moody slow acoustic based compositions, (the Queen-like “Monster in My Room” and the dramatic slide-guitar laced, “The Show”) either drag down the vibe, or show Nelson’s more sensitive side… depending on your taste for molasses slow tempos and crooning wails. But the meat of “Shake The Cage” hits with a more pure rock aesthetic.
And there is most definitely a purity to any album where someone with Nelson’s talents is responsible for all guitars, bass and vocals. The ideas are uncompromising and delivered direct. When one has been on a journey as involved as Nelson, the experience lends to above average output.
And that’s where “Shake The Cage” falls, in the solid ‘above average’ category.
Stream the entire album here: “Shake the Cage” on Soundcloud.