Freeman's album first under Craig Brewer's new publishing label

Tommy Kha
Jason Freeman had been reticent to record his album. "I've never felt comfortable enough in the studio recording. It seems kind of unnatural compared to the way I normally make music."

Tommy Kha Jason Freeman had been reticent to record his album. "I've never felt comfortable enough in the studio recording. It seems kind of unnatural compared to the way I normally make music."

Jason Freeman video and vinyl release party

Friday at the Poplar Lounge, 2586 Poplar. 9 p.m.; free. For more information, call 901-324-6550 or visit thepoplarlounge.com.

From "The Poor & Hungry" to the Oscar-winning "Hustle & Flow" to the MTV series "$5 Cover" to "Footloose," music has always been central to the films of Craig Brewer.

Now the Memphis director/screenwriter/producer is pushing music makers to the fore with a novel twist on the traditional record label.

On Friday, Jason Freeman will play a show at the Poplar Lounge marking the vinyl release of his debut album, Hex & Hell, the first project undertaken under Brewer's BR2 Music Publishing. The night will also see the debut of the third music video from the record for the title track directed by Christopher Reyes.

The other two videos, a sultry Delta Gothic romance for "Magic In My Home" directed by The Commercial Appeal photographer Alan Spearman, and indie mainstay Mike McCarthy's comic burlesque romp for "Rump," will also be screened.

An arm of Brewers' production company BR2 Productions run out of Memphis by his sister-in-law and producing partner Erin Hagee, BR2 Music Publishing is a shrewd nod to the realities of the music business today, where physical sales and radio airplay matter much less than music licensing.

Rather than take a cut of record sales, BR2 will make its money by placing songs in films, television shows and commercials, leaving the other, increasingly more lucrative, revenue streams like touring and merchandise to the artist.

"Everybody was saying maybe you should start a record label because a lot of the stuff that I do has music in it," says Brewer of the long incubating idea behind BR2 Music Publishing. "But the more I started exploring it the more I realized that what I'd do rather than do a standard label where you spend a lot of money trying to get CDs in store … I can get an artist's music out there and then just focus on the publishing element of it."

For his first foray, Brewer didn't have to look far for an artist in Freeman. The two are brothers-in-law. Freeman and Hagee have been married for more than two years and before that dated for a decade.

Freeman was born in Memphis but his family moved to Northwest Arkansas when he was in high school. There he began learning how to play the blues, leaning more toward earlier acoustic styles because "I couldn't really find anybody to start a band with."

Freeman moved back to Memphis, playing on street corners before finally hooking up with the kindred spirits in The Bluff City Backsliders, a group specializing in early blues, vaudeville and folk that remains Freeman's best known musical outlet.

Over the more than dozen years he's been with the Backsliders, Freeman has slowly emerged as one of the group's leaders, with the band increasingly working his hill country-style originals into its sets. Freeman's music also began to pop up in Brewer's works.

He had a track on the soundtrack to "Hustle & Flow" and wrote the arrangement of "Black Snake Moan" heard in that 2007 film, going so far as to tutor star Samuel L. Jackson on how to play it on film.

He appeared in the MTV series "$5 Cover" and helped score another, "Savage County."

Despite his increasing confidence in his own writing and performing, Freeman was reticent to record his own album.

"I've never felt comfortable enough in the studio recording," he says. "It seems kind of unnatural compared to the way I normally make music, so that was always maybe a little bit intimidating. And, of course, you always want everything to be perfect, so another part of it was just learning how to accept something you created for what it is."

Freeman's confidence and the plans for BR2 Music Publishing finally intersected two years ago when Brewer and Hagee were working at Midtown's Music + Arts studio preparing Brewer's first feature, 2000's "The Poor & Hungry," for an upcoming DVD release.

Working with studio owner Ward Archer and engineer Kevin Houston went so well that Freeman chose to record most of Hex & Hell there, with one track being cut at Sun Studios with Freeman's Backsliders bandmate Matt Ross-Spang.

Viewers of Brewer's 2011 remake of the '80s dance flick Footloose heard Freeman's "Magic In My Home" on its soundtrack, and its accompanying video, viewable at hexandhell.com, is equally cinematic as are the videos by McCarthy and Reyes' upcoming animated take.

The video component is not offhand, allowing Brewer to showcase the songs' film potential while also developing new directing talent.

"The album has not even come out but we're in really great position because of the 'Footloose' placement, where neither of us are feeling bad about helping some other artists," says Brewer. Up next for BR2 Music Publishing is an album by Brewer's high school friend, film executive Adrianna Krikl. But Brewer, who spends most Sundays sifting through the piles of demo tapes he regularly receives, doesn't see this as a strictly a family affair.

"Really it's just got to be something that we all love," he says.

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