Stripped-down DeGraw frees album

Gavin DeGraw’s newly-released third CD is the opposite of the dance albums that many artists make today, but that’s a good thing — the soft and soulful sound of “Free” is exactly what he should sound like.If Gavin DeGraw’s sophomore self-titled effort last year resembled the more up-tempo songs from his debut record “Chariot,” his newly released third album “Free” takes a different turn.With thoughtful lyrics and minimalistic charm, “Free” is full of songs perfect to listen to through headphones late at night.More stripped down than any of DeGraw’s albums to date, with just nine tracks, DeGraw has referred to “Free” as “an artist’s record for an artist’s fans.” Though that may sound a bit pretentious, it more or less holds true.Included on the album are two tracks, “Dancing Shoes” and “Free,” which have been fan favorites for years. Finally answering the pleas of YouTube users, he recorded these songs that he has been playing live for years.In addition to those two tracks, “Free” includes a cover of Chris Whitley’s “Indian Summer” as its opening track and six songs of new material.With its raw feeling, reminiscent of the stripped version of “Chariot,” some might feel that “Free” lacks the energy of DeGraw’s two earlier albums.With less production, “Free” allows DeGraw’s soulful voice and musicality to become the focus of the album.Certain tracks especially stand out — there’s a reason that “Glass” and “Dancing Shoes” have long been fan favorites.In addition, “Stay” is melodic and memorable and the soft outro “Why Do the Men Stray” ends the CD nicely.”Waterfall” and “Mountains to Move” are the weakest tracks on “Free,” both somewhat forgettable.The title track, “Lover Be Strong” and “Indian Summer” are the closest “Free” gets to being up-tempo and they keep the CD from becoming too slow.Recorded over the span of just two weeks, DeGraw’s newest release features accompaniment from guitarist Audley Freed (Black Crowes, Dixie Chicks), bassist Andy Hess (Black Crowes), drummer Charley Drayton (Keith Richards) and keyboardist George Laks (Lenny Kravitz).