Monday, May 23, 2011

Family Entertainment - Family

Family Entertainment
Reprise  RS 6340

My teenage record buying was largely guided by two books, "Rock Encyclopedia" by Lillian Roxon and especially "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock" by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden which was written from an English perspective.  Through Logan and Woffinden I became interested in Fairport Convention, Man, Roxy Music, Lindisfarne, Pentangle and numerous other British bands that weren't played on the radio here, including this group, Family.  Family never really made it in the United States, but I've long admired them, at least once I got used to Roger Chapman's unusual voice, his heavy vibrato reminds me of the bleating of a lamb.  This may be their best album.  Their debut was more psychedelic, but I think the songwriting here is a little better and I definitely enjoy the eclecticism of the music.  It is so eclectic it is even difficult to describe, a mixture of folk, prog rock, blues and world music, like a blend of Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull, Traffic and the Doors.  "The Weaver's Answer" is a powerful song about an old man looking back at his life as he is about to die.  I think it is the best song on the record.  Like most of the songs on the album it is written by the team of Chapman and John Whitney.  Their "Hung Up Down" sounds like a light poppy song but it is paired with heavy, socially critical lyrics and a growling gut-bucket vocal by Roger Chapman that is sure to try the patience of people who find his singing annoying.  This semi-dialectical approach to music is one of the things I like best about this record.  It is so full of changes in texture and form, so much variety, it is really stimulating to listen to.  You can hear this particularly in "From Past Archives" which is an amazing song.  It starts out with mournful bluesy harmonica moving into chamber pop seguing into a jazzy interlude that is followed by a swelling prog-rock passage before returning to chamber pop and it never sounds contrived or forced.  "Dim" is country rock and sounds pretty convincing for a bunch of guys from Leicester.  There is also a bit of country flavor in the charming song of childhood, "Processions" which is another one of the songs I like best on the record.  The piano and violin on this song are strikingly beautiful.  Whitney's Middle Eastern sounding instrumental, "Summer '67" and bassist/violinist Ric Grech's sitar-driven "Face In The Cloud" have an exotic world music quality to them.  The latter song is the most psychedelic of the songs on the album, rivaled only by the excellent "Observations From A Hill."  "Emotions" is an odd mixture of heavy rock mixed with prog rock like a forced marriage of Steppenwolf with the Moody Blues, prog rock wins in the end but I still kind of like it, it is definitely different.  Grech's "Second Generation Woman" is the hardest rocking song on the album but I think its lyrics are pretty dumb although his lyrics for the political song "How-Hi-The-Li" are even worse, reminiscent of the Alvin Lee school of whiny diatribes which is a shame because musically it is quite an engaging song.  I don't care much for his lyrics but I really like Grech's violin playing, it enhances so many of the songs and remains I think one of the most successful uses of the instrument in rock.  It is too bad that Grech left Family after this album for Blind Faith.  It may have made him semi-famous, but it was hardly as suitable a vehicle for his talents.  The departure of Grech and saxophonist Jim King after this record created a void in the group's sound, that I don't think was ever adequately filled.  The richness of the group's sound and the wide variety of instrumentation in their music is almost without parallel in this era.  They really sound great.  Family would go on to make some good records, but they would never sound as good as this one.  This is such a rewarding record, I find myself noticing new things every time I play it.  Recommended for people who wish the Incredible String Band could rock.

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