Sure I knew (and loved) "All Right Now" but somehow I just never 'got' Free - this despite there being no better blues-rock-soul singer than Paul Rodgers. Yes, Paul Kossoff had the quickest vibrato this side of BB King. Yes, Andy Fraser was a prodigy. Yes, Simon Kirke provided the perfect back beat. Yes, it all came together seamlessly. But for some reason, I just didn't get it. Then something strange happened. Perusing the YouTuba as usual, watching/listening to various musical diversions, a live version of "Mr Big" kept on appearing as a thumbscrew. It wasn't a song I knew (it isn't on the Free compilation I have - and had kept listening to occasionally over the years because I knew there had to be something I was missing ... ). Anyhow, "Mr Big" wouldn't disappear and had been hanging around for weeks and one night I 'clicked'. Wow. I was speechless. Free at the Isle of White Festival. From the opening riff and chord I was totally hooked and the song just got better as it built. Having been a music fan for over 40 years, never before have I become so absorbed - well, obsessed actually - with a song. I can't get enough. Fire and Water has the studio "Mr Big", so immediately became my first Free (original) album and magnificent it is too. Where will it all end? I'm not sure but I'm up for the ride. At (long) last, I'm starting to get it now ...
Having started my journey into the land of Free with the 2016 reissue of the original album, I couldn't resist the 2001 expanded edition with 6 extra tracks. Having reviewed the 2016 remaster separately, I'll just comment here on the extras. "Oh I Wept" has an alternative vocal and "Fire And Water" is said to be a new stereo mix. There's a bit more to it than that though - it's nearly half a minute longer than the album version. Other than the extended drum ending to that number, I don't notice much difference from the album versions. There are 2 BBC sessions recorded for radio broadcast - "Fire And Water" is complete with DJ intro and outro and "All Right Now" is a great take. Then we get 2 more versions of "All Right Now" - the familiar edited single version is great to have included and it's interesting to hear how the song developed from the first version - the 4 versions here show how Paul Kossoff would never play his solos the same way twice. He played from his heart, not his head. A true blues man.
The 8 page booklet is well written and presented, with band photos, record sleeves, recording details and essay (much better than the 2016 booklet). Fire and Water is a 5* + album and this expanded edition is a cracker. The only problem for me is that I've seen there is a Deluxe 2 CD edition which includes more versions of "Mr Big" and "All Right Now" ... that's going to be irresistible!
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