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Family are yet another totally unjustly forgotten band from the late Sixties/early Seventies - sometimes dubbed as a 'minor progressive outfit', and thus largely ignored in favour of more 'classic' progressive bands. This is, however, not true, as Family's sound hardly corresponds to the definition of 'progressive': they rarely display influences of classical music, and most of their material was always much too 'primitive' and 'straightforward' to be deemed as progressive. In my mind, the closest band they can ever get to is Traffic: they went for the same folksey/jazzy sound that characterized Steve Winwood and Co., only unlike Traffic, they gave their sound an edge, which is why I actually prefer Family. Anybody who keeps on raving about the musical virtues of such Traffic records as Mr Fantasy should definitely get around to appreciating the blistering sound of early Family records and see how much deeper these guys actually used to dig...Sure enough, there's plenty growls and howls an uninitiated fan can hurl at the band. Their songwriting abilities were always kinda limited; judging from the late-period, you'd probably doubt if such a concept as 'catchiness' ever occurred to their main songwriting members (the early albums are far more accessible, though, as it so often happens with 'progressively oriented' bands). None of the constantly coming-and-going band members were musical virtuosos - all were professionals, but that actually goes without saying: all more or less known bands of that period were, and you had to have a pretty above average technique to go remarked. That's not to say they couldn't play their instruments - they played them pretty well, but 'displaying the chops' is not an expression you'd meet in a review of any Family records. And, lastly, Roger Chapman's vocals can turn off quite a few rock lovers who thought that there could not be anything worse than Dylan already. Somebody described his style as 'electric goat': his usual trick is to try out high notes that his voice simply cannot reach, and sometimes his bleatings can get even on my nerves, sending down shudders incomparable to the impression I get from listening to too much Jon Anderson or Robert Plant. That said, Family had a style - maybe it would be more correct to say, Family were a style. Dominated by the slick, slight but solid guitarlines of Charlie Whitney and the effective violin playing of whatever 'multi-instrumentalist' was in the band at the time (Rich Grech, John Weider and John Wetton successively), they were folkish - but more than folkish, with a slight tinge of jazz-fusion, acid, psychedelia and sometimes even Marc Bolan-style mystic pretentiousness (I would indeed describe Chapman's vocal style as a weird hybrid between Dylan and Bolan). Their best records are really a good choice every time when you want to try something 'avantgarde' that would be thoroughly listenable at the same time. Speaking of songwriting, the band never really pretended it was writing 'songs': much too often, these sound more like mantraic, hypnotic chants, all mood, all atmosphere, but strangely captivating at times. Of course, like every significant band, they evolved over time, and eventually got drawn away from the initial 'weirdness' to becoming a fairly normal folk/country rock band, but believe me, there is something to laud on practically every Family album (of course, there's also quite a lot of dross; if you're curious, you should probably only begin with a hits collection). And finally, Roger Chapman's singing voice is actually pretty good. When he doesn't strain himself, he sounds like a sincere, well-meaning folkster with a warm, soft tone; and when he does strain himself, well, it's your bet. I think his 'electric goat' impressions are his trademark choice, and you simply have to take it or not; and I far prefer this shiver-sending style to the mild hummings of Stevie Winwood, in any case. At that exact time this was considered 'art'; nowadays it could probably only be considered travesty; but at least it represents his sincere artistic impulse. And you can't deny that sometimes these spooky vocals only add to the general dark, scary atmosphere of the songs. In any case, unknown as they are, Family still have been hugely influential - they were one of the main inspirations for Ian Anderson, for instance, who had often pointed out his concern about the band being so criminally underrated. Better than anyone, they showed how you could twist "rootsy" music so that it suddenly came out at you from a totally unexpected edge, and did so without being too offensive or 'nasty' towards traditional musical values. Together with Gentle Giant, they are now forever rooted as the two hugest and most interesting 'underground' bands on the UK scene of the early Seventies. Despite the underratedness, though, all of Family albums have recently been remastered and reissued, many of them with bonus tracks; pretty few, however, seem to be in print in the US, which is a travesty. Line-up (this is gonna be a real pain in the butt): Charlie Whitney - guitar, Roger Chapman - vocals, Ric Grech - bass, violins, Jim King - saxophone, Rob Townsend - drums. Grech quit in 1969, joining Clapton's and Winwood's Blind Faith, and later - unsurprisingly - ended up in Traffic. Replaced by John Weider. King left, 1970; replaced by Poli Palmer (keyboards, vibes; most keyboard work was previously supplied by guest musicians like Nicky Hopkins or Dave Mason - from Traffic again!). Weider left in 1971, replaced by John Wetton; that gentleman only lasted for about two years as well, quitting the band for King Crimson, and Palmer also left in 1973; the two were replaced by Tony Ashton (keyboards) and Jim Cregan (bass, guitar). Band collapsed soon afterwards. All these constant line-up changes only reflect Family's unhappy story: a band that tried to make it big for seven years but never managed to break through in the States, and had little less than just a dedicated cult following in Britain. Gruesome unjustice, as I could name quite a few bands whose huge commercial success was far less deserved... er, Traffic, for one. Let's hope history will correct this sad mistake.
Listenability: 3/5. Lower
that down one point if you can't stand Chappo's voice, but I don't really
Resonance: 2/5. Not tremendously resonant, these guys, more like 'involving' and 'exciting'.
Originality: 3/5. Well, like I said, they effectuated the art-rock/roots-rock synthesis MUCH better than Traffic...
Adequacy: 3/5. ...except when they bogged down in boring pretentious noodlings, much like said Traffic.
Diversity: 3/5. The early albums are fascinatingly diverse, and the mixture of art-rock and roots-rock is unique.
Overall: 2.8 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968Record rating = 10
Great, groovy entertainment with loads of energy and hundreds of musical ideas - even if not everything works, there's just so many of 'em...Best song: OLD SONGS NEW SONGS
Track listing: 1) The Chase; 2) Mellowing Grey; 3) Never Like This; 4) Me My Friend; 5) Variation On A Theme Of Hey Mr Policeman; 6) Winter; 7) Old Songs New Songs; 8) Variation On A Theme Of The Breeze; 9) Hey Mr Policeman; 10) See Through Windows; 11) Variation On A Theme Of Me My Friend; 12) Peace Of Mind; 13) Voyage; 14) The Breeze; 15)3 x Time.
Family's debut is smashing - it's a trifle too cluttered with filler to be an immaculate masterpiece, but, in my opinion, the high points of this record would be enough to immediately place the band in the upper league of the 'artsy/psychedelic roots-rock' British bands out there. Strangely, they didn't, and Family turned out to be doomed commercially from the very beginning; they did get some good press coverage, but that's about it.Most debut albums, as one knows, fall into one of the two categories: insecure, 'water-treading' debuts which show a band with 'studio-fright' just getting into it and only making the first feeble efforts, or highly energetic, rip-roaring debuts, with a young, ambitious band that's determined to conquer the world with their very first step. Family's debut definitely falls into the second category: all of their trademark elements are firmly in place, and perhaps there's even too many of them. Music In A Doll's House is structured as a concept album (no wonder, name me a 1968 album that wasn't), although there's no real concept actually (no wonder, name me a 1968 album that had one - okay, bar Village Green Preservation Society); the 'conceptuality' is ripped-off from Sgt Pepper, with songs fading one into another and those that don't being linked together by small tidbits called 'Variation On A Theme Of... [insert a full song name here]'. This could result in a mess, but somehow it doesn't; the songs are actually quite distinct and each has its own identity. What strikes me most is the unbelievable diversity of the record. Later on, Family would stretch out some of the numbers, especially the live ones; here, no song ever goes over four minutes, and no musical idea gets repeated twice. They show themselves equally at home with tender ballads, ferocious, visceral rockers, folksy chants, and bluesy jams. And the instrumentation is tremendously varied: all kinds of guitars and guitar effects, keyboards, saxes, harmonicas, Ric Grech's violin, sitars, and a very good understanding of studio trickery - backwards tapes, phasing, etc., all of these things are used rationally and wisely, to good effect. If there's anything lacking on the album, it might be the sense of humour: but one should keep in mind that Family rarely went completely overboard with their pretentions, and for every mind-blowing number like 'The Breeze' or 'Voyage' there's a more 'grounded' number like 'Hey Mr Policeman' or 'Old Songs New Songs'. Not to mention that Chappo's bleatings and occasional grooves like the band launching into a crazed-out live snippety take on 'God Save The Queen' at the end of the album are well worth a laugh now and then. In any case, it sure is greater than Traffic's debut; speaking of which, Traffic's guitarist Dave Mason actually produced this record and even contributed one tune - the Traffic-sounding (what a bummer) 'Never Like This', a pleasant enough shuffle that's not one of the record's high points but sure beats quite a few of Mason's contributions to Traffic itself. And, furthermore, about half of the songs on here are undeniably great. Family's schtick slaps in your face from the very first seconds of 'The Chase' - a pompous, medieval-sounding pop song with overwhelming vocal harmonies and Chappo's 'tremolo voice handling' perfectly complemented by Townsend's paranoid drum brushing; and the way the song suddenly gets sped up towards the end really gives the effect of the protagonist being 'chased' (ooh, gruesome - apparently, she's chasing him indeed. Hear those 'Tally-ho! Tally-ho!' at the end?) Meanwhile, 'Mellowing Grey', with Moody Blues-ish Mellotrons, Grech's classical violin workout and one of Chappo's most gorgeous vocal melodies ever, is a solid candidate for the best ballad in the Family catalog. On 'Me My Friend' the band really blows the top - the medieval stylistics is as strong as ever, and the song easily predicts a good half of prog-rock stylistics that would become to boil up a couple years later. Especially hard-hitting here is the contrast between the electronically encoded, 'mystical' vocals of Grech and the angry, near-paranoid splutterings of Chapman. But those who can be offended by something thus 'overblown' (although I wouldn't get it - how can a song that lasts little more than two minutes be 'overblown'), will probably get their kicks out of 'Old Songs New Songs'. All pretense is dropped, and the band just rocks out - the number does begin as an art-rock number that alternates between the blues-influenced main melody and the heavenly choruses chanting 'old songs, new songs, keep on singing' (funny, that section seems to have been borrowed by Andrew Lloyd Webber for JC - remember 'Good old Judas, so long Judas'?), but then transforms into a magnificent, fast, breathtaking saxophone/wah-wah/harmonica jam, and one of the most charged ones I've heard in a long time. Whitney blazes away on the wah-wah, Grech pumps out a mastodontic bass line, and Jim King really lets loose. And this is immediately followed by the folk-jazz fusion masterpiece 'Hey Mr Policeman', a funnily straightforward piece with a catchy melody and really, really, really creepy saxes - again, as is usual, they build the song effect on the contrast between Chappo's vocals (quiet and disturbingly scary this time) and the responding saxes. Like I said, nobody's a true virtuoso, but how they manage to bring all the instruments to such a perfect whole is something I still have to understand. Likewise, don't forget the pretty hard-rocking and vigorous 'Peace Of Mind', with a simple, but Eastern-influenced melody and Jim King on backing vocals (yeah, I've always thought it was a female singing, but wise men told me otherwise). They also rip off the Yardbirds' 'For Your Love' at the end of the track with the 'ah ah ah' bit, but who cares? The Yardbirds wouldn't sue them for that. 'The Breeze' is a charming, gentle folkish ballad with sparkling piano bits from Dave Mason (I suppose), very atmospheric and authentic-sounding: I suppose that were it to turn up in the hands of somebody like Ray Thomas from the Moodies, he could have made it into a hit. And then the album ends up with the multi-part mini-suite '3 x Time' (my favourite part about it is the hilarious marching band imitation in the middle and its reprise in the end). I have a question, though: that harmony-drenched part towards the end, sounding like a solemn funeral march - where did they lift it from? You don't mean it's original? And how come it so closely resembles the famous melody of 'Memory' from Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats? Could it be that Andrew was stealing a melody from Family? Probably a dumb question. Of course, Whitney and Chapman were no Lennon and McCartney - there are certain weak spots on the record, songs that aren't bad, but aren't tremendously memorable, either, like the pathetic ballad 'Winter', or the overtly dissonant 'See Through Windows' where Chapman engages too much in disjointed word pronunciation that predicts such later excesses as can be found in the archives of prog, on Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, for instance. I don't care too much for 'Voyage', either, as the sound effects used therein (backwards violins, cunning distortion of Chappo's vocals, etc.) get on my nerves; but I do admit it's one of the most bizarre tracks on the album, and so might please quite a few listeners. And it has the Mellotron, too. But these are not essential quibbles - Music In A Doll's House is still one of the best art-rock records of 1968, and it doesn't deserve the tag of 'pointless Beatles rip-off' that it sometimes gets, along with a million other records of the same year. An excellent effort that'll probably always remain as my favourite Family record - Entertainment may have higher song peaks (or peak, for that matter), but it's nowhere near as innovative, energetic, or simply consistent. PS. Apparently, this is the record that prevented the Beatles from calling their 'white album' Doll's House, because it came out a little earlier. Well, after all, I think that Family's record really deserves that title, so let's not lament about the Fab Four having wasted an excellent idea. Spare some excellent ideas for the humble ones!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969Record rating = 9
Slightly less edgey, but perhaps even somewhat more majestic. Acid flowing in all directions, too.Best song: THE WEAVER'S ANSWER
Track listing: 1) The Weaver's Answer; 2) Observation From A Hill; 3) Hung Up Down; 4) Summer '67; 5) How-Hi-The-Li; 6) Second Generation Woman; 7) From Past Archives; 8) Dim Processions; 9) Face In The Cloud; 10) Emotions.
Perhaps it wasn't such a wise decision to put 'The Weaver's Answer' at the very beginning of the album, as the absolute magnificence of this song makes everything else look pale and shabby in comparison - it would have made a far better climactic finish. Even so, when you take the song on its own merits, the very idea is pure brilliance in its simplicity. It's a four minute 'proto-progressive' epic, with a rather simple melody that nevertheless reaches up to heights never again scaled by the band. Chappo bleats his way through a very poetic, even if a wee bit cliched, description of a person's life slowly unveiling before his eyes, from birth to death (the 'weaver' is the Lord, of course), and manages to make his delivery absolutely thrilling and shiver-sending, ending each verse with a feedback-beating growl that'll really make you jump up in your chair; meanwhile, Grech's fiddle, King's sax and Whitney's organ all join in an ominous, majestic symphony. Do I make myself clear? In a nutshell, 'Weaver's Answer' is one of the most perfect example of a complex and thoroughly overblown musical/lyrical subject treated in a simple and accessible way and actually working (unlike, say, something you'd meet on a Uriah Heep record - and I'm just making a counterexample to make my point more understandable, not because I feel a great need to take another jab at Uriah Heep. Eh? See that? I'm not a hater! I'm perfectly well-humored!)Like I said, the record never really scales the same heights again, and this makes up for a less consistent image than that of Music In A Doll's House, but eventually, when you're getting sick of hearing 'Weaver's Answer' for the thirtieth time, the rest of the songs start growing on you as well. There are fewer hooks and the genre-exploring style is slowly getting out of the way: Family are still a very psychedelic band, and a very folksy one, but there are fewer jazz and blues elements on Entertainment, and another problem is that there are way too many compositions not going to the 'Whitney/Chapman' duo. While I don't have anything against Ric Grech as a multi-instrumentalist, his two compositions on the album are undoubtedly among the weakest ones. For instance, not only does 'Second Generation Woman' seem absolutely unfit for inclusion on the album, as it's a rather straightforward, unexperimental rocker, but it's also plain weak: the supposed hooks, including a loud roaring out of the title in the refrain, are clumsy and stick out like a sore thumb instead of making the song flow along perfectly. Blah. The guitarwork is good, though. And the psychedelic shuffle 'Face In The Cloud' looks like it's been mainly included onto the album in order to have at least one number with the sitar taking a very prominent position. But why does it seem like a rip-off of 'Norwegian Wood', then? It's pretty and atmospheric, but I don't see a lot of effort in the song. A couple of numbers are credited to Whitney alone, and they're better than Grech's, but still not up to the standard. For me at least, 'Processions' never really picks up steam and is hardly distinguishable from an average Donovan or CSN song; there'd be no need for Family to actually be formed if ever they'd make an accent on these kind of numbers. 'How Hi The Li', however, is another matter: any song that begins with the wonderful lines 'And we'd like to know/If Mr Chou En-Lai he gets high/With all the tea in China' deserves a special mention in my book. Hippy-dippy anthemism? Ooh, I love hippy-dippy anthemism if it's catchy, weird, melodic and atmospheric. Wait for that beautiful bassline, too. Oh, and am I right in thinking that parts of the song were later borrowed by Jethro Tull? I'd swear some of the vocal melodies were later reprised in some of Ian Anderson's Chateau D'Isaster exercises. But that's another story. Still, the best stuff all stems from the C/W duet. 'Observations From A Hill' perfectly convey the lazy, melancholic atmosphere of a person sitting... sitting on a hill. 'Hung Up Down' sounds particularly nasty and disgusting, just like the title would have been suggesting, with Chappo exterminating his throat over peculiar pseudo-martial rhythms. 'From Past Archives' is a wonderful synthesis of medieval balladry with classic jazz, a beautiful listening experience for the true eclecticist. 'Dim' seems to rock softer than 'Second Generation Woman', but actually it is much tighter and much more involving, even if the main instruments are just a banjo and a harmonica. If the line about 'my eyes are dim I cannot see' doesn't grip you by the throat, I don't know what will. You probably have no throat. And finally, 'Emotions' is still a nice ending piece, even if, like I already said, I'd easily have swapped it with 'Weaver's Answer'. The Moody Blues-ish chorus is memorable and stately, and the multi-instrumental coda is a very well thought-out lead-out segment. (Certainly influenced by 'Salt Of The Earth', particularly because Nicky Hopkins breaks in with a piano pattern very similar to the one he played on that Stones song, but somewhat different never the less). It's a terrible shame this record never made the big time, either - 'Weaver's Answer' has gone on to become Family's trademark song, but that wasn't enough to guarantee sales or universal recognition. There ain't exactly any huge leaps forward here, as the band pretty much opened all of its cards from the very beginning, but it does show that Family had hit upon an extremely fruitful formula that was far from exhaustion. I mean, what the heck, they were one of the first, if not the very first, band, that took rootsy music and showed the world how you could mess around with it in an extremely creative manner. I suppose, though, that since most of the listeners were purists ('a sitar in a folk number? Get on widya!'), this didn't exactly account for a large audience. Ah well. At least they have me. Am I worth a dozen purists? Purists, I challenge ye!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970Record rating = 8
Stabilizing themselves as the weird underground outfit they really have to be.Best song: LOVE IS A SLEEPER
Track listing: 1) Drowned In Wine; 2) Some Poor Soul; 3) Love Is A Sleeper; 4) Stop For The Traffic - Through The Heart Of Me; 5) Wheels; 6) Song For Sinking Lovers; 7) Hey - Let It Rock; 8) The Cat And The Rat; 9) 93's Ok J; 10) A Song For Me; [BONUS TRACKS]: 11) No Mule's Fool; 12) Good Friend Of Mine.
Family pretty much shot their entire wad on their first two albums - if you're planning to assemble a general overview-style collection of Sixties' bands, you really don't need to look further than Music In A Doll's House and Entertainment. What ensues is music made strictly for the Family fan: less 'over the place', less easily accessible, with frequent collapses and often annoying filler. Yet even so, Family never made a truly bad album, and they never even made a truly uninteresting album - and what's more, I find even the least accessible Family albums to rank as 'challenges' rather than 'pretentious borefests'. So let's just carry on and see which route the Family line actually took.A Song For Me does see a radical change in the band's stylistics. With the departure of Rick Grech for Blind Faith (and later Traffic), the band lost an essential part of their sound. This part was certainly compensated for by the arrival of new member Poli Palmer, whose keyboard work very much defines the Family sound for most of the Seventies; but it was a somewhat different sound nevertheless. Gone are the ethereal vocal harmonies, the huge Mellotron sonic panoramas and most of the 'epic' feel that the band was hunting for on their first album. A Song For Me is very much a 'locked' album, 'locked' in its limited groove (at least, limited for previous Family standards); the songs are still vastly experimental, but they never take as much chances as they used to. Chapman comes to the forefront on here; the compositions are still essentially Whitney-Chappo collaborations, but it's here that Chappo really arrives in full force, threatening to drown out the band with his frantic "electric goat" bleating and other studio schizophrenics. This can be good or bad depending on the circumstances; me, I lament the music - it's certainly become less interesting than it was before. That said, the album does require concentrated listening. One thing that can please art-rock scepticists is that the songs are kinda 'realistic' this time; no acid-drenched fantasies like 'Hi Ho The Line' and no metaphysical overreaching like on 'Weaver's Answer', adequate as it had been. For the most part, this is Chappo bellowing out his moral and social concerns; the lyrics are often hard and sometimes impossible to decipher, but heck, they sound decent to me, and half of the time I can't even hear what the guy is screaming. The songs themselves are more or less equally divided between 'softer' and 'harder', although the two types tend to merge - there's no orchestrated sappiness on here, nor are there any heavy metal monsters. The hardest-hitting number opens the record, and it's a highlight but it has to get used to: 'Drowned In Wine' at first sounds like it's just Chappo roaring in agony over a chaotic musical backing, but it is, in fact, a very well thought out tune of depression and desperation, with a fantastic vocal delivery - just listen to the way Chappo alternates the gentle notes with the all-out terror of his vocal feedback that would make the stucco crumble down from your ceiling and you're in for a thrill of your lifetime. 'Wheels' is another piece of, er, 'untrivial beauty' - and it has one of the most inventive acoustic guitar solos I've ever heard, too. Plus, there's the good old time boogie of 'The Cat And The Rat'... good old time boogie, that is, in Family's understanding; remember that Family take the most generic things possible and make the weirdest things out of 'em. This one's got a typical boogie rhythm crossed with strange imaginative lyrics, echoey guitars, clumsy power chords alternating with blistering trills and Berryesque notes. Pure fun and more than pure fun. My personal favourite out of these is 'Love Is A Sleeper', a fast rollickin' hard rocker with just a faint trace of psychedelia present in Chappo's "barocco" vocal deliveries and Palmer's meditative vibes throughout. That's on the vocal parts - the instrumental ones are dominated by Whitney and his unrelentless attack. Then, when the organ joins in, it's pure bliss: each new listen you have some new dimension opening out there. See what I mean by saying these songs are 'challenges'? In the good sense of the word: a little effort on your part becomes ultimately rewarding in the long run. The 'softer' songs, like 'Some Poor Soul', can hardly rank alongside chef-d'oeuvres like 'Mellowing Gray'; they're introspective but not particularly involving or memorable. Still, they rank as nice cool breathers in between the sturm und drang of the harder hitting tracks, and 'Song For Sinking Lovers' at least features a wonderful title and funny nostalgic lyrics ('that cigarette I smoke reminds me of a joke' and so on). That said, I'm still not able to think of A Song For Me as a 'great' album. Family are Family, they can't release three great albums in a row. And then, heck, sooner or later the well of your creative ideas is bound to start running temporarily dry. Why, for instance, do we need to have that strange instrumental thingie out there ('93's Ok J')? What's its purpose? The guitar/vibes contrast has already been seen on 'Love Is A Sleeper', and the cunning acoustic strumming has been present on 'Wheels'. So? And worse, why is the title track nine minutes long? That's the worst musical idea I've seen the band come up with so far. It's essentially just a slow blues-rock jam. It has a nice groove going, and I love the "mixed piano-guitar riff" it's based upon. It's pretty majestic-sounding. But nine minutes? Without actually changing into a different part and all? That's a long way from the frantic jamming power of 'Old Songs New Songs', isn't it? So you see, here's a little formula for you - tone down the eccentricity of Family's earlier style, make some hard-rocking well-distinguishable songs, throw in some obvious filler, and you've got a groove that you can keep going for years. That's what stems from your being so uneconomic on your first release: you make a record that's simply impossible to top and spend the rest of your life basking in its glory. The good news is that a band of a minor stature would be spending this 'rest' putting out boring time-consuming dreck; Family spent it putting out challenging enigmatic records that are well worth anybody's time unless you actually consign yourself to one record per artist.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1970
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
Half live, half studio - half wild, half gentle. Perhaps more 'interesting' than 'entertaining'. But perhaps not...Best song: PART OF THE LOAD
Track listing: 1) Good News - Bad News; 2) Willow Tree; 3) Holding The Compass; 4) Strange Band; 5) Part Of The Load; 6) Anyway; 7) Normans; 8) Lives And Ladies; [BONUS TRACKS:] 9) Today; 10) Song For Lots; 11) Today (edit).
Anyway was released at the 'turn of the century', in 1970, and it manages to capture both the 'older', 'weird' side of Family, and their newer, more 'normal' look. The album itself is divided into a live and a studio part, and the differences in style are clearly seen. The record opens with a trademark 'classic Family' track, 'Good News - Bad News' that has it all: begins with a chunky-chunky clicky-clicky riff, evolves into some softly strummed acoustic guitarwork and then tends to alternate tender, introspective verses with rip-roaring, power-chord-full choruses with Chapman's best 'goat' impression. The song is drawn out a bit too long - I me would edit Poli Palmer's vibes solo and give a bit more space to that Whitney guitar one, but you might probably prefer just the opposite. A good composition anyway. 'Strange Band' also has the band's signature - a rambling, psychedelic 'jam' with Chapman howling out the romantically-tinged verses rather than singing them. Do not, however, forget the magnificent John Weider violin line that holds up the whole song. When Chappo bellows out 'strange looking band were we-e-e-e-e-e-e' and Weider accompanies him with those otherworldly sounds, it really resembles nothing else. That said, there's way too much dissonance lying around that whole track for it to truly become a Family classic.The other two live songs are softer, certainly more acceptable to the normal-minded audiences, which - note - does not mean they are 'conventional': Family were not yet at a stage where they would bring themselves to offer something 'conventional'. 'Holding The Compass' rocks out a little, based around some sharp, solid, extremely ear-pleasing riffage which is actually played with amplified acoustic guitars (maybe that's the secret of the song's hidden charm); but, of course, it's just as erratic as anything else. And the softest of all is 'Willow Tree', a pretty, jazzy ballad with Poli Palmer's piano as the main attraction this time. In other words, nothing outstanding, but, after all, 'tis the only Family live album (half-album) in existence, so it does deserve some special attention if you're ever planning to dig into the band. This stuff is so weeeeeird... man, I think I need a good dope here. Let's get to the studio tracks, all right? I can smell the joints already! Oh. The studio part. The studio part has 'Part Of The Load'. Ever heard that one? Now there's one really mean song! A harsh, but rhythmic bass line, syncopated drums, sharp, precise piano and guitar 'hits' and that singing - disjointed, distorted, yet quite carefully structured verses: Traffic never reached that power that lay concealed in the best Family material. 'We're out on the ro-oa-oa-a-a-a-d! That's part of the loa-oa-oa-oa-aa-a-a-d!' Gee, I don't know if you can actually appreciate my written impression of Chappo's vocals. Perhaps one day I'll bring myself to put down some extracts in MP3 here. Right now, though, you just gotta believe me this one's a hell of a good song, although it sure as hell takes a lot of time to get used to. There's also the title track, of course, but that one ain't no big shakes - mostly it sounds just like the band having fun in the studio with different production techniques; it's monotonous and tedious, and Rob Townsend's use of exotic drum instruments only makes matters worse. Fortunately, the record picks up steam again with a brilliant instrumental ('Normans'), where Weider shines on violin once again and gives the tune an exotic feel, somewhere in between an Eastern-style drone and a country waltz: Family getting 'conventional' (yeah, right). And the album closer is nothing short of brilliant, too, a powerful anti-war statement that might seem a bit too straightforward lyricswise for Family ('you being masters of war/you never knew your fathers, that's for sure' and all that stuff), but otherwise it's a strong, compactly performed two-part 'suite' with multiple little wonders, such as that tasty fuzz guitar line that imitates Roger's voice in the final section. Suitable ending! Now when I said 'Part Of The Load' was the best track on here, I wasn't really thinking of the bonus tracks, otherwise I'd have to give the honour to the single 'Today'. Oh, it ain't that interesting melodically (just a nice little jolly happy pop ditty), but it features some of the most gorgeous slide guitar lines I've ever heard on any song! Whitney really gets it on with that instrument - I can only think of George Harrison as a person able to do something more gentle, tender and fairy-talish. The B-side, 'Song For Lots', is bouncy and rhythmic, but kinda fluffy; 'Today', however, is simply a masterpiece from start to finish - I feel like I'm basking in the glow of that guitar every time it comes on. Undoubtedly, this would be one of the best choices were you ever to wish to addict some mistrustful friend of yours to the innocent charms of that genre we the labelists call 'folk rock'. There's also an 'edited' version, but it's just that, and kinda excessive, in theory. In real life, though, I often end up listening to it twice, and I really haven't yet regretted. To conclude, I must warn you that Anyway isn't really treated with enough respect by the critics - it's widely considered to be a letdown in the Family catalog. It's definitely far from their best, with too many songs lacking catchiness and too much uncertain experimentation going around with very mixed results, but since the band was so friggin' consistent, always venturing just a few steps ahead of mediocrity but never really crossing the line, I don't really care - my general reaction is positive, and while you should never start here, songs like 'Part Of The Load' or 'Good News Bad News' are vital for understanding the band's development.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A band that goes mad before your own eyes. Mad folk songs getting progressive arrangements? Whoopee, now we're talking!Best song: SAVE SOME FOR THEE
Track listing: 1) Between Blue And Me; 2) Sat D-Y Barfly; 3) Larf And Sing; 4) Spanish Tide; 5) Save Some For Thee; 6) Take Your Partners; 7) Children; 8) Crinkley Grin; 9) Blind; 10) Burning Bridges; [BONUS TRACKS:] 11) In My Own Time; 12) Seasons.
"Curiouser and curiouser", like good old Alice would say. John Weider is out of the picture, replaced by the nearly sound-alike John Wetton - yeah, the guy who was later to become the famous King Crimson frontman. Wetton is not actually credited for any songs on this album, but I don't think it's a coincidence that this is the place where Family start getting more serious. They also get more diverse, exploiting style after style and trying to fit everything into their bizarre, structureless and mysterious pattern. Some say it's their absolute peak, in fact, and it is indeed a strong recording; however, I still cannot speak out a definite judgement, as there's much I still need to hear.Mad and rambling, yes; but - a paradox - at the same time this record sounds quite well-polished and precise. Even the 'jams', which is the part I like the least about Family, are not really sloppy and spontaneous, but seem to be carefully constructed to me. Considering the fact that Chappo mostly evades the electric goat impersonations, this is perhaps the best way to start with the band, for the uninitiated, although it is already a significant step away from their basic image. Out of ten songs on here, at least seven or eight are, in fact, quite recommendable. And while none are particularly gripping, as 'Today' or 'Part Of The Load', they are diverse and entertaining enough to guarantee you a good time. The rockers pound and pump with moderate force and energy, particularly the album opener 'Between Blue And Me' and the catchy, singalong-style 'Save Some For Thee'. The latter gets my vote for best song, but it is not a stable decision - the album is quite an even one. Highlights include respectively a great sparring guitar duet on 'Between Blue And Me' and an odd war march at the end of 'Save Some', plus I love the way Chapman and Wetton (both sing) stretch out on the final lines of the choruses. The title of grittiest song, though, goes to 'Blind', a rather straightforward protest song with Chappo at his most freaked out. But rockers ain't the only thing you'll get on this piece o' plastic. There's a nice, delightful acoustic ballad ('Children'): it was probably designed as ax throwaway, but I feel totally at home with the bouncy rhythm, the lines about 'children can you laugh me/all your young life's meaning' and, of course, the way Roger and Co. twist the structure of the song to make it as uncatchy as possible! At that point, in fact, I think that Chapman was being influenced by Genesis and their songs, and in fact, the album closer, 'Burning Bridges', sounds exactly like a Genesis song: a slow, spooky, very medieval-sounding chant, emphasized by layers of sad, melancholic guitars a la Steve Hackett, not to mention that Chapman almost gives a Peter Gabriel impersonation - sometimes I simply mistake him for the man. There's also some mandolin, some steel guitar... in other words, all the prerequisites of a 'progressive' sound. On the other hand: where in your life are you going to find a Genesis song coupled with a Faces song on the same record? Why, on Fearless, of course! 'Sat D-Y Barfly' is just the kind of song you'd expect to hear from Rod Stewart - a barroom ditty, with loads of out-of-tune saloon piano and Chapman singing in a blooozy, booooozy voice some stupid lines about how he was going to drink gin with Louise and instead found himself drinking red wine. There's some brass on the song, too, and in fact, the only things that give it away are Poli Palmer's synth effects near the end of the song and, of course, the verses' structure, which is so rambling and seems so 'intentionally unfinished' that it still goes to show the song is pure Family. But boy, they must have been soaked... Finally, for easy listening, there's 'Larf And Sing', John Wetton's main vocal spot on the record, just a silly old pop song with weird harmonies on the choruses. Now the other three songs I don't particularly care about: 'Take Your Partners' is a long and ultimately boring and pointless jam (although it does contain the immortal lines 'God knows I'm hip/But I ain't yours or his/Everybody's arse is up for kicks'), 'Spanish Tide' is one of the band's least convincing stabs at pretentiousness, and 'Crinkley Grin' is just a short throwaway instrumental. But you gotta have your percent of duffers on a Family album, now don't you? With all the spaced-out experimentation and dangerous messing with song structures, it's indeed a big wonder that they didn't fuck up more of the material on here. As it is, the record still stands out as a balanced, respectable effort, far from stellar as it might be. The CD issue adds two excellent bonus tracks: the band's biggest hit single in the UK (reached number 4, actually), 'In My Own Time', and its B-side, 'Seasons'. It's typical Family: a catchy, but complex song structure, trademark Chapman vocals, and interesting, but a bit obscure, lyrics. 'Seasons' is probably the band's impression of Vivaldi or something - the lyrics are ridiculously dated, but the melodical structure of the song is quite entertaining, with different moods alternating to represent the four seasons, all over the course of 2:20. 'Vivaldi for babies', I say.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Funny - every song on here means something to me, but never really goes over the edge to mean A LOT.Best song: BURLESQUE
Track listing: 1) Burlesque; 2) Bolero Babe; 3) Coronation; 4) Dark Eyes; 5) Broken Nose; 6) My Friend The Sun; 7) Glove; 8) Ready To Go; 9) Top Of The Hill; [BONUS TRACK]: 10) The Rockin Rs.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this something like the band's highest-charting US album? It seems it's the only Family record nowadays that can be more or less easily found in that country, which makes all the more telling the fact that for me, it was the last of the seven Family studio albums I've heard. Funny!Anyway, if it did have a bit more success, it's easily understood. Bandstand is seriously louder and seriously higher on hooklines than at least the two or three albums that preceded it, and it is also more "accessible" in the general sense, with Chappo seriously cutting down on the 'bleating goat' effect that plagued Anyway so much, for instance. It still seems that they are consciously steering away from commercialism, though, because these hooks ain't easy, and most of the songs pack at least three or four different melodies so that following the record becomes (the usual) pain in the ass. You can also see the first signs of the band's "Americanization" that led to their grotesque country-western experiment of It's Only A Movie. The record opens with 'Burlesque', something which sounds like a cross between a parody on a pub rocker and a non-parody on a pub-rocker, if you get my drift. It doesn't rock too hard, but it's thoroughly riff-based and raunchy to exactly the right degree. It's still firmly in the Family vein, unlike some of the songs on the 1973 album, but it does herald changes, and it was hardly coincidental they put it as the album's opening track as well as issued it as a single (again, if I'm not mistaken about this). Elsewhere, we don't get a lot of radically new ideas, but we do get a lot of non-radically fresh ones. For the last time Family put the stakes on full-sounding production, throwing all kinds of ingredients into the mix - the final result is more subtle and less flashy than on Music In A Doll's House, but it is still presenting Family as a BIG-sounding band, contrary, almost defiantly contrary to their "underground" status. It's actually funny, you know, how after all these years of commercial failure they were still allowed to do anything like this - with orchestration, brass sections, backing vocals, all kinds of tricky production effects, etc. Were these guys recording in the Nineties, by the time of their sixth album they would be shut inside four bare walls with a pair of rusty guitars and a $300 worth mixing board and that's that, baby. Ah, these were different times. But I digress (not to mention whine), so let's get back to the material at hand. 'Bolero Babe' doesn't have a particularly interesting vocal melody, but the orchestration is totally swell - reminding me of Paul Buckmaster's best efforts on contemporary Elton John records, 'Levon' in particular. The strings really carry that tune, giving it a well-deserved epic feel. On the other hand, 'Coronation' sounds not unlike contemporary Genesis material - a very anthemic, proggish sound; originally, it is only carried forward by a minimalistic chimes-and-electric piano melody, but eventually explodes into an uplifting spiritual chant (which doesn't tie in very well with nostalgic, "memoir-oriented" lyrics, but that's all right, I only read the lyrics post factum anyway). Later on, the band experiments with big-band funk on 'Broken Nose' - and actually gets quite a rabble-rousing sound going on in the chorus, although I still get that naggin' feeling that Brit bands never learned to do a proper funk groove until the New Wave revolution came along and funk got transferred from the hands of prog/art-rockers into the hands of bands with a punkish past like the Jam, for instance. Art-rockers have sort of a way too sterile approach towards the most "loose" genre in existence. At least the full production and some monster drumwork from Townsend (as well as Poli Palmer's frantic piano bashing at the end) save the song from mediocrity. The second side continues the tradition of "good, but not too good". 'My Friend The Sun' is a guitar/accordeon ballad with a very pretty and friendly sound, but not exactly delivering a, say, Harrison-quality emotional punch. 'Glove' is, once again, a big anthemic rocker with orchestration and Whitney's frantic guitar parts all set in the right places, but the frantic climax to the song is not entirely adequate - as much screaming and passion and musical crescendo as there is, it's all based on a pretty simple melody and pretty inane lyrics which never advance too well beyond the first verse. 'Ready To Go' is more pop-rock with cool lead guitar lines and probably the most memorable vocals on the album, but I can't say anything else about the song. And 'Top Of The Hill' is like a synthesis of everything - with quiet sections, loud sections, guitars, orchestration, hard loud riffs, a few more funky lines, etc., but for some reason, I am again at a loss for words here. It's hard to review Family. Overall, it's a good album, and warrants repeated listening. But it certainly had little commercial appeal, as usual, and it still sounds smothered. Whaddaya want? Put 'Weaver's Answer' next to any of these songs and it will shrivel and shrink, no matter how tall it might have seemed to you. Why, with all these production advances and stuff right in their hand, they just did not allow themselves to go "over the top", I simply don't understand. I, personally, would have welcomed that with both hands. On the other hand, let us not forget that "big" stuff quickly wears off on some people - and Bandstand is a good choice for a "cult favourite", to be obsessed with for millions of years.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1991
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Witness the Mafia UNLEASH in a live performance!Best song: TOP OF THE HILL
Track listing: 1) Burlesque; 2) Sat'dy Barfly; 3) Top Of The Hill; 4) My Friend The Sun; 5) Buffet Tea; 6) Children; 7) Glove; 8) Ready To Go; 9) Holding The Compass; 10) Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu; [BONUS TRACKS]: 11) In My Own Time; 12) Weaver's Answer; 13) Part Of The Load.
Whoah! My one and only previous exposure to Family's live performances was through 'Weaver's Answer' from the Message To Love video of the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival, and I've always assumed it was the worst choice for inclusion on that tape bar none. The playing was sloppy as hell, Chappo's bleating seemed to accord with the principle of "if it's not out of tune, it ain't worth a shit" and got in the way everywhere, and the brilliant, blistering melody of the song turned into something that makes Trout Mask Replica into an ideal of euphony and harmony. Put me off Family for months or even years - and you can tell I was pretty shy of this live album as a result.Needlessly, as it turns out. This album, currently the only easily available live Family performance, was taken from a late performance at the Paris Theatre in London and, as it frequently happened back then, recorded for live retransmission on the BBC airwaves. Apparently, there's a respective bootleg of the performance floating around with song announcements from John Peel and - get this - no audience applause, which means that this album had applause overdubbed on it, a pretty stupid trick if you ask me. Since this was January '73, this means that Poli Palmer and John Wetton had already quit, and the band stepped into its last incarnation with Cregan on bass and Ashton on keyboards - in fact, they are actually previewing one of the songs from It's Only A Movie on here ('Buffet Tea For Two', here entitled simply 'Buffet Tea'). The majority of the repertoire, however, comes from their latest album, Bandstand, with a few numbers from Fearless and Anyway completing the picture. As a special (and very valuable) bonus, the CD adds three tracks from earlier BBC appearances, circa 1971 or so, boosting the length with extra 20 minutes. Now either they were in a bad mood at the Isle of Wight show, or perhaps it was a "substance"-related case, or maybe the recording equipment sucked, because this here is one hell of a live performance. Granted, I've heard Family fans quibble a bit and say that this last incarnation of the band was way too tight and "sane" when compared to the more "classic" versions, but personally, I didn't notice that many differences between the newer and older tracks, and even if I did, well, I sure prefer Family when they're tighter and saner than when they're looser and madder. Yep. See, the madder they get, the more Chappo gets out of control, and the more Chappo gets out of control, the more the proceedings start resembling the proverbial madhouse. Maybe someone likes it better that way, but I don't. Anyway, from the very opening chords - they rip into action with 'Burlesque' - it's obvious that Family follow the standard classic-rock trick of discarding the smooth edges in concert and concentrating on energizing the audiences with everything loud, distorted, aggressive, and ass-kicking. Whitney's guitar suddenly starts sounding gruffer and rougher than ever: I still wouldn't go as far as to call him "rock's greatest underrated guitarist" or even a magnificent player in his own right, but he definitely goes out of his way to provide Family with a noble hard rock background in a live setting, and he does his job well. In the meantime, Tony Ashton adds all kinds of nifty touches on the keyboards, now bashing on the keys as if he were hammering in an enemy's head, now adding Emerson-like distortion effects to his organ parts; and Chappo... well, Chappo, for the most part, stays in tune, which is basically all that is demanded of him, isn't it? Uh, well, I guess if you're not a big fan of Roger, maybe you should steer clear of the album anyway, because 'Sat'dy Barfly' starts out with the quintessential nasty bleat, and then he just transforms it into a showcase of everything he can do with these surrealistic vocal cords of his. Sometimes I wonder if he had a surgeon implant a tricky electronic device in his throat when he was small - it's hard to imagine a real live human being can utter these sounds and still be able to actually, you know, speak afterwards. His "duet" with Ashton's organ towards the end of the song would almost be hilarious if it weren't so scary. Many of the songs are significantly extended in concert, or just as significantly modified. There's the matter of lengthy intros with Whitney soloing and Chappo following him with his wailings, or occasionally they just give Roger additional time about his vocal gymnastics. That's not a problem, though: the band knows well the stunning power of teasing the audience with slow soft passages suddenly crashing into loud and gruff ones and back - 'Top Of The Hill', for one thing, does it all the time, finally exploding in the biggest climax of the record. Of course, no show can pass without a couple "softies" to illustrate the band's sensitive side; the minimalistic, drum-less 'My Friend The Sun' does the job nicely, although 'Buffet Tea For Two' is perhaps not the best way to introduce the upcoming album, even if Ashton's jazzy piano soloing is pretty good. 'Glove' is also particularly good, a bit slowed down, I think, from the studio version, but conveying the same sense of "weird majesty", and 'Ready To Go' rocks harder than the original, mostly due to Whitney's broken 'ragged' distorted chords in between the verses and wah-wah soloing on a level I haven't heard the guy tackle since at least 'Old Songs New Songs'. And on a less pompous note, they finish the show with a blistering version of the barroom classic 'Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu' - done in classic Family half-sloppy style, incorporating audience singalongs and the band just giving it all away, remembering their roots and boots. Out of the bonus tracks, 'Weaver's Answer' is way better than the Isle of Wight version, although I still can't really handle the "self-deconstruction" of that song: it was so goddamn perfect in the first place that I subconsciously feel any stepping away from the tightness and cathartic feel of the original as a betrayal. 'Part Of The Load', however, is a real goddamn stunner, and no mistake about it: ten minutes of ferocious avantgarde rock'n'roll, with everybody soloing like a pack of stray demons and I can only imagine the inhumane convulsions rattling Chappo's body while the band were doing this. Awesome! Again, how a band that could put on such a mighty powerful live show could be reduced to nothing but a minor underground phenomenon in the early Seventies escapes me. There's glam-reminiscent theatre a-plenty, grumpy hard rock riffs that tons of lesser bands could kill for, and the will to experiment and develop which was actually upheld by the general public back then. Guess these guys were smarter than your average Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. Or dumber. Or both.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1973
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
For the farewell banquet, our heroes disguise as intelligent cowboys. Gee, what a show!Best song: BOOTS 'N' ROOTS
Track listing: 1) It's Only A Movie; 2) Leroy Buffet; 3) Buffet Tea For Two; 4) Boom Bang; 5) Boots 'n' Roots; 6) Banger; 7) Sweet Desiree; 8) Suspicion; 9) Check Out; [BONUS TRACKS:] 10) Stop This Car; 11) Drink To You.
I'm ill. I'm lying in bed and I hate the world. What's even more important, though, is that right now I'm listening to It's Only A Movie - and scribbling down this here review on my trusty laptop. And thank God that I do; if I were in a better physical and psychological form, I'd probably give it not more than a 7 or 8 on the overall scale. I mean, when I first heard it, I just felt incredibly bored. For some unclear reason, on their final, 'farewell' album Family decide to go country-western and release an entire album of songs that range somewhere in between smelly bordello pastiches and raunchy cowboy ditties. Whether this was due to the arrival of new members Jim Cregan on bass and guitars and Tony Ashton on keyboards (the former later transformed into a Gangsta Rod Stewart accomplice), or Family simply wanted to make a reverend and ironic gesture in the face of America that had always refused them and shunned them, is beyond me; a fact is a fact - It's Only A Movie is Family's take on the Wild West, slightly twisted to suit their savage and boozy image, of course.Which brings me to my original point: it's real hard to enjoy this record if you're not in a relaxed, don't-give-a-damn mood. As such, I was finally able to get the record's messy charm on third or fourth listen. I still don't see any particularly strong material here, but most tracks still do have something to offer. The title track, for instance, that starts off the album, is based on a repetitive, somewhat sad and ironic-sounding guitar riff, Ashton's saloon piano playing and lyrics that seem to denounce life and its fakeness in general, despite the first impression of dealing with exclusively 'country' imagery. 'Leroy' comes next, a totally stupid, but incredibly seductive country ballad about a cool cat trying to get his chick by boosting his automobile, and while there sure ain't no real Family melody here (the song is probably just ripped off from some old barroom ditty), it's simply charming, with layers of steel guitars, pianos, harmonicas and tasty orchestration creating a warm, lush and totally homey atmosphere: and on top of it all, come Chappo's thoughtful, caressing vocals with not a sign of the 'electric goat' around. 'Leroy', to me, is proof irresistible that Family broke off at the top of their game: they could obviously tackle any genre in the world and make it sound genuine and well-meaning. 'Boots 'n' Roots' is the other highlight for me, an even more generic c-w tune, this time emphasized by just some pianos and some moody brass popping in and out. Chappo keeps whining about his vagabond image - 'boots 'n' roots, there's so much I've got to see'. I would like to be able to sing 'n' play that one - so soothing and tender, and the lyrics are so coooool... I probably won't be able to name any other highlights: most of the other songs have far too many flaws to strike you as much as the tender ballads here, but none of them are bad, except possibly 'Sweet Desiree' - Family's take on 'Hey Negrita' (yay, I know this album precedes Black & Blue by a good three years, but for some reason I think the average audience would be better acquainted with 'Hey Negrita' than with anything Family had to offer to us, so my comparison stands): actually, its something I could only describe as a 'funky groove', but they really cannot keep up the jam, and it ain't real sharp or funny in the first place, so I me would trim it down from four minutes to two. Maybe to one. Hmm, I think fifteen seconds would be just all right - as a short intro to 'Suspicion', another so-so rocker. In fact, the only track here that rocks out with any conviction at all is the album closer 'Checkout', where Whitney finally gets down to playing some real electric guitar, though the song is anything but hard rock - basically, it's just the same 'redneck-style' pattern they're playing here, only with a little more speed and energy. It's good, though, and might even cause you to tap a foot or two. Maybe even three. Elsewhere, the slow, tuneless pieces like the quieter 'Buffet Tea For Two' or the more raunchy, drunken 'Boom Bang' do not really thrill me, but like I said, I'm lying in bed and I really don't care. I sorta like that sound, sloppy and rednecky as it might be. In any case, this stuff is still much too weird and unpredictable to be just your average country-rock: these rhythms and strange chord changes are pure Family, ladies and gentlemen, Family, Britain's most unjustly forgotten Underground band (and yes, there was such a thing as the underground in the early Seventies, too). Bonus tracks add one more slow, addictive country dance tune ('Stop This Car') with delicate slide licks and a mandolin hanging in the background (or is that a balalaika?), and the more rockin' 'Drink To You' which I don't care that much about, but I think that, given some more energy and force, it would have excellently passed as a Faces number. In any case, as a swan song, this album is definitely not as bad as it could be - although the concept is really somewhat weird for a farewell album. The States didn't swallow it, of course, and it was probably never released there at all. But if you have nothing against roots rock, grab it if you see it lying somewhere in the corner, tattered and forgotten. It will make a fine and adequate reminiscence of a truly worthy band.
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