★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Though I have some of the five albums here, and many of the rest on compilations, the appearance of this set and many others in the Island back catalogue in the 5 Classic Albums series, had me reaching for my wallet - and what tremendous value and entertainment this is.
Free were a short lived (about four years all told between 1968 and 1972) band from the British post-psychedelia Blues and Rock boom. They delivered, from an impossibly young quartet, a sumptuous feast of hard-driving rock, subtle melodies and above all superb musicianship from the guitar work of Andy Fraser and Paul Kossoff, the extraordinary vocals and growing maturity of Paul Rodgers, all held together by the excellent Simon Kirke on drums. The old warhorse (and perennial cash cow for composers Fraser and Rodgers) "All Right Now" is complemented by an array of songs, in which the interplay between Kossoff's sonorous guitar, Fraser's understated melodic bass lines and Rodgers' bluesy vocals holds the ear - simple, economic, beautiful.
The least familiar of the five albums to me, the last album "Heartbreaker" by which time the tensions between Rodgers and Fraser and Kossoff's struggle with ill health and drugs signalled the end of the band, shows the way forward (for Rodgers and Kirke with Bad Company at least), a move towards anthemic and stadium-based rock, but also (my favourites) more reflective and melodic pieces such as "Easy on My Soul" and "Come Together in the Morning".