Various Artists – “Rev Hammer’s Freeborn John Live (CD/DVD)”

Album Reviews | May 6th, 2007

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Record Label:
Genre: Folk Rock
Band Link: link
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‘Freeborn John’ was a concept album British folk rocker Rev Hammer did with various musicians back in 1995-1996. Since there was over 50 musicians that worked on the album, Rev Hammer and others didn’t think it would ever been performed live. In 2005, The Levellers’ Beautiful Days Festival commissioned Rev Hammer to perform the whole album during the three day festival in Devon. Besides getting the chance to see the show live on DVD, you also get a live album as well. Can’t beat that!

The way Freeborn John Live is set up is like a British history lesson, set to music & storytelling. Each singer or musician is suppose to be someone like Rev Hammer is John Lilburne, Justin Sullivan of New Model Army is a Parliament Solider, the Levellers are…the Levellers. Its actually a great way of telling a story because I didn’t have a clue who Freeborn John was until I started to listen to the Levellers & Rev Hammer. We Americans don’t really go into a lot of detail about British history in History class. But maybe they did go into it and I was too busy doodling in my notebook? John Lilburne or Freeborn John, was England’s first radical, who went up against Oliver Cromwell and fought for freedom of speech, of the press, etc. The man was imprisoned several times, whipped, banished to exile a few times and put on trial quite a few times as well. Lilburne was associated with the Levellers party and lead them against tyranny, and injustice.

To start off the CD & DVD, there’s an Overture, which if you watch the DVD, has text that scrolls down the screen. If you suck at reading like I do, the scrolling goes a little bit fast but thankfully the text and lyrics are in the CD booklet. After the Overture, Rev Hammer..err I mean John Lilburne takes the stage and sings a song with the chorus of “World turn upside down, Rise Up! Rise Up!” It’s strange how much folk music and punk rock co-existent and are a lot alike. Same messages, just different style of music. I guess that’s why so many bands are mixing the two styles together, like The Levellers. I think Rev Hammer really shines on this recording, and you can really see & hear the passion in his voice since this is his baby so to speak. I also think having guys from New Model Army and the Levellers participate was great as well. They also sing my favorite songs on this album like “Buford Stomp” (The Levellers) and “Seventeen Years of Sorrow” (Justin Sullivan). Another track that really stands out for me is “Elizabeth’s Great Gallop” featuring Simon Friend (The Cavalier) of the Levellers and Maddy Prior as Elizabeth Lilburne. Besides the people singing up front, you have to give a lot of credit to the backing band featuring Phil Johnstone, Justin Sullivan, Dean White, Dave Bloomberg, Michael Dean, Nelson and Harry S. Fulcher. They really make the music flow from each singer and each of their different styles.

If you happened to be at Beautiful Days in 2005 and witnessed this special concert, now you can re-live that with this live CD/DVD. If you missed out on the festival like I did, this is something to listen to and watch over and over again. Besides hearing some uplifting & great folk music, you also learn some British history. Now if only history class was this interesting, I might have paid more attention instead of drawing in my notebook. *Please note this is a UK release, so make sure you have a region free DVD player to watch the DVD*

Bottom Line: A great concept album that can now be heard & seen live!
Notable Tracks: I love the songs Pillory Scene/Commons of England, Elizabeth’s Great Gallop, Buford Stomp, Exile and Seventeen Years of Sorrow.
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