Reverend Freakchild has a resume both inspired and frustrating. His time in bands like Bananafish and Cosmic All Stars show a career of experimentation, poetry and an understanding of many styles. Yet on his own, the Rev. (who has also used obvious monikers like Sal Paradise and Cleophus James to draw attention to his coolness—on top of choosing the “Reverend” label about ten years too late to be cool) offers an erratic set that is solid when he stops being lazy and rests on his own considerable talents. The schizophrenic “God Shaped Hole” is the result of such wavering.
First of all, mid-tempo rockers like “Strange Magic” and “Worried Mind” (and “All Across America” for that matter) don’t so much suffer from weak vocals and tepid arrangements as leave you with the impression that such touches were deliberate. Rev. Freakchild delivers these with a John Hiatt-esque croon, and the number of these kind of rockers suggests a comfort level he ought to dump. Much better is his take on country music, on tracks like “Causing Crying” and “Sweet Sweet You,” both of which feature a cool Bakersfield groove, though the vocals and overall production suggest The Eagles rather than Buck Owens. His personal take on country leans toward the atmospheric and minimal: “Supersubconscious” is as haunting and personal a country tune as any he tries to ape.
But where he sets aside conceit and really lets it loose is on tracks like “Crazy Life (It’s Alright)” and “Stupid Motherf#%! Er” (and the closer, Don’t Miss Nothing”), which show off his most confident sound, a slow muddy bluesy that more suits his vocal range, with slightly abstract poetic lyrics. It is fitting that he developed this style while playing blues and gospel on weekends at Tobacco Road, a former hipper than hip NYC joint. In the midst of his obvious attraction to the hip and ironic, Reverend Freakchild holds genuine gold in his heart, and when he listens to his muse fully, “God Shaped Hole” is compelling and raw, and as hip as he sometimes tries too hard to be.