Let's get one or two things straight. Free, one of the most underrated bands of the late 60s? Oh, yes. Fire and Water, a masterpiece? No, of course not. At the time this short record represented an advance on the previous album, "Free", which itself was both an advance on the first album (Tons of Sobs) and a change of direction. Here on Fire and Water we see the band moving further outward from their blues origins, becoming now much more interested in original songwriting. The key here is heard in the burgeoning talent of Andy Fraser, 15 years of age when he became a founding member of the band in 1968, a true prodigy. The composer to Rogers lyricist, on this album he wrote three outstanding pieces: the title track, the monster single and true genre classic, All Right Now and Don't Say You Love Me. For these, Fire and Water is worth any amount of money you want to pay.
Don't Say You Love Me is probably the most widely unknown work of greatness of the whole 1966-1976 period. It's structure and elegant melody are so memorable, the piece has the immediate sound of an established R n B classic ballad: "It's a cover, isn't it?" you think. No. The fact that the song is missing from first compilation The Free Story probably explains its obscurity. The elegance of the chord structure, the simplicity of its arrangement - a constant Free trademark -and Paul Rogers's brilliant, understated vocal make this one of the progressive rock movement's outstanding creations.
Fire and Water represents the commercial breakthrough for the band thanks to the stupendous sales of All Right Now. However, artistically it's a stepping stone on the path to one of the greatest albums of modern music, ironically one almost totally unheralded: Highway. This was, and remains, Free's masterpiece.