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The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 9-9-22 – 9-15-22, “I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos” Reviewed

“On October 27th 1971, Lou Reed walked into the first recording session of his solo career. I’m So Free: The 1971 RCA Demos is a collection of those rare recordings. This is Reed as few have ever heard him: the songwriter at work, pure and alone, before the noise, swagger and legend. Released on vinyl for the first time, the 17 tracks on this LP are an unprecedented addition to Reed’s rock ‘n’ roll life on record. His next four decades – more than thirty studio and concert albums of lyric challenge, incendiary guitar and iron-willed vision until his death in October 2013 – start here”.

Or so it says. Initially released to get round ownership laws (the way Dylan does) and then as part of the April Record Day, I’m So Free is early Lou demos that sound as close to finished, up to and including arrangements, and yet have studious songwriting bents throughout.

And Lou comes across as, in modern terms, an alt folkie, the songs on the album, from the perfect “Perfect Day” off Transformer (1972) as well as songs that would appear in completed form on Sally Can’t Dance (1974) and Coney Island Baby (1976), from his VU days and his eponymous solo debut. Reed was about as fucked up as he’d ever been at this time, drug addled and outsiderdom badass gay culture but lyrically poetic and quietly uber-ordinary yet not even close to. You will want to know why it took us so long to hear the marginalized brilliance of the demo forms of “Hangin’ Around” and the unnihilistic title track “I’m So Free”.

Given Lou’s reputation here, it is Lou on business and 100% ready to take a fistful of great songs and lay em on the table. I realize we have been waiting for Words & Music (the 1965 demos) all year, but this is on the same level of must hears, especially in a world where he isn’t remembered with quite the reverence he deserves

Grade: A

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