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  • Brian Freeman

    Ashland musician plans tribute to Robert Burns
  • Ashlander Brian Freeman is immersed in the poetry and music of Scotland.
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  • Ashlander Brian Freeman is immersed in the poetry and music of Scotland. His tunes written to Robert Burns' poetic compositions will be performed during a birthday celebration of Scotland's national poet on Saturday.
    "I've been playing English music since the '70s," says Freeman. "I started dabbling, and then in '79 was the first time I went to Scotland and at that point it solidified the Scots in me."
    Freeman says Scottish music was where he kept finding himself. "It marries well with my own singer-songwriter style even, because Scottish music speaks to the emotion so strongly that it can meld with many different styles."
    Freeman will be joined by Don Harriss on piano and organ, Steve Fain on stand-up bass and backup singers Chris Williams and Jim Finnegan at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at Trinity Episcopal Church, 44 N. Second St.
    "The first half is all songs by Robert Burns, either songs he's written or collected," Freeman says. "The second half is opened up to contemporary writers as well, some other of the older, traditional songs."
    The show will open with Tish McFadden on flute and Kathleen Page on harp. Tickets cost $15, $5 for ages 11 and younger, and are available at The Music Coop or by calling 541-482-1915.
    "What the evening shows, is how many different styles you can sing this music in," Freeman says. "I mean, there's times you're downright swing-based and other times it has a bit of a country flavor and other times it's rock-solid traditional Scottish. It can wear many moods."
    Two visits to Scotland and immersion in the genre has even affected Freeman's speech, which sometimes has a Scottish accent.
    "Being around it all the time helps, and singing the songs all the time is why the accent will pop up at different times when speaking to people," Freeman says. "It's a great language to be expressive in. All emotions come across with a little more of a tang."
    Since moving to Ashland in 1975, Freeman has been a prolific performer, though he has slowed down in recent years.
    "I've just been sporadically here and there doing things, but now I'm starting to pick things up again," he says. "I'll be going down to California in spring and doing some shows."
    Freeman says most of his performances are outside of the valley because his music requires a wider listening audience. By day Freeman works at his company, Crystal Castle Graphics, with his wife, Cathy. Working from home allows him the freedom to travel for performances or pleasure.
    "My wife is a warm-weather girl, so Ashland is our compromise," Freeman says. Given the choice, he would move to Scotland in a heartbeat, he says. He's even written songs about his homesickness for his adopted country.
    "Time spent in Scotland certainly helps," he says. "When you're there it helps you understand the rhythms."
    For the Tidings Café, Freeman performed "Ye Banks and Braes" by Robert Burns, with accompaniment by Don Harriss on piano. Freeman has just completed his eighth album, a collection of Burns' songs titled, "Contented Wi' Little and Cantie Wi Mair."
    The emotion of the music is an element that speaks to Freeman, which he feels is best expressed in ballads. "They can get to the heart like nobody's business," he says. "I think of all styles, it's their ballads to where they really experience the real heart of the matter."
    Burns' love of the old Scots language is a shared passion of Freeman's. "He wrote poetry in the vernacular of the old Scots language," he says. "In fact, that's what he was dedicated to doing, was bringing the old Scots back because it was beginning to fade and English was coming in more dominant."
    In addition to singing and playing the guitar, Freeman also plays the mandolin and the banjo and will feature all three in the upcoming show.
    "I found that I could emulate the writers that I've always liked," he says. "I can condense 50 years of history into three verses and a chorus, and when that happens, I'm just over the moon over it."
    Mandy Valencia is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at avalencia@mailtribune.com.
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