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FAME Review: Oliver Schroer & The Stewed Tomatoes - Freedom Row
Oliver Schroer & Stewed Tomatoes - Freedom Row

Freedom Row

Oliver Schroer
& The Stewed Tomatoes

Borealis Records - BCD201

Available from Borealis Records.

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

There's a sad side-element to this very good CD: it was recorded just before Oliver Schroer's death in 2008 and done so partly from his hospital room. The finalization of the event was a mere year after he was diagnosed with untreatable leukemia in 2007. The gent was such a consummate artist that he finished writing his last song—after a history of recording 10 CDs, playing or producing for 100 albums, and writing more than 1,000 songs—on July 2, 2008, passing on the following morning.

Freedom Row is an orchestrated collection of instrumental violin-driven pieces and, from the first, reminded me that we don't hear much string work in the way of Richard Greene (Seatrain), Jerry Goodman (Flock), or David LaFlamme (It's A Beautiful Day) nowadays. Schroer took a pronounced interest in the wider possibilities of the instrument, and when I say 'orchestrated', I don't mean that Lenny Bernstein dropped in at any point but rather that the violinist's use of a panoply of musicians—definitely limited in number and very skillfully arranged, calling in up to 11 players, as in the uplifting closer The Manifold Path—sounded as though composed of 30.

Schroer, in his liner notes, called the CD "a party", and it is, but not in the raucous MTV sense; rather, Freedom Row is a bacchanal of refined, urbane, sophisticated celebrations of life in a multifaceted sonorous fete. Of course, there's deep poignancy in the fact that it was his last will and testament on the aesthetic plane, but, sweet day in the morning, such a way to say goodbye! With a smile in place of tears, a wistful sigh rather than dark solemnity, a reminder that, in his own words "the path can go many ways and is not straight or predictable" but is all nonetheless life and meant to teach, refine, and expand.

Expansion was Schroer's personal way, the songs here illustrating that with depth and surpassing artistry. He was not only skillful but also quite knowledgeable in music theory; just ask the people he recorded with: Jimmy Webb, Barry Mann, Lorena McKennit, Sylvia Tyson, etc. I mean, the guy knew tarantellas from mysteriosos from reels from melismas. The degree of nuance and breadth in each cut is daunting, not to mention the use of unorthodox measures such as that sawing pizzicato in the opening of Paddy in Timbuktu. Schroer's was a fusion of rare understandings and to use the old line that we shall not see his like again is not to be overly sentimental but to justly note the sort of person for whom the clause was coined.

Track List:

  • Freedom Row
  • Paddy in Timbuktu
  • All the Little Children in the World
  • Squid Juice
  • Barking Spiders
  • Ojnab
  • Jora Dance
  • Fiddle with a Broken Wing
  • Don Victor's Parade
  • The BLue Reel
  • Milk and Honey
  • Fireballs of the Eucharist
  • Dancing on the Waves
  • The Manifold Path
All songs written by Oliver Schroer.

Edited by: David N. Pyles


Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.
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