CD REVIEW – Family – A Song for Me

This third album was first released in January 1970, and was the first to feature John Weider on bass and Poli Palmer (Eric Burdon & The Animals alumni) on keys, flute and vibraphone. To give context, Jim King had left due to addiction problems, their recent US tour hadn’t gone too well, and Rick Grech had moved onto Blind Faith. Considering many songs had already been written with King’s sax in mind, and already performed live, Palmer’s instruments led to some adaptations as he became a band stalwart.

This new two-disc edition of this classic album has been newly remastered from the master tapes and also includes 14 bonus tracks drawn from singles and BBC Radio sessions from August 1969 and January 1970. There’s also an illustrated booklet with a new essay that makes very good reading and is a fitting tribute to an under-rated, important band.

So why have Family been under-rated by people – including me? Is it their American roots-rock influences and being primarily a guitar ban in an era chock full of guitar bands? Was it the unique vocal style of Roger Chapman perhaps? Were they incorrectly positioned in a prog world when their focus was on the song not the concept?

Family’s music is for the heart and soul, not the intellect. That’s not to diss their art and craft, mind you. But you can switch off the grey matter and get a satisfying earful of strong and smart music. “A Song for Me” may not be an oft-remembered masterpiece. But it is a very good album. It’s very time-bound, eclectic and immediate. It’s both hard rock and folk oriented with a diverse mix of acoustic and electric guitar. It boasts violin and flute. And it’s got the unique Chapman voice. Rough and ready, tender, charismatic.

“Drowned in Wine” is a hard-folk song with multiple light and dark stops and starts, an oft-exposed flute, and a guitar reminiscent of Genesis’ Trespass. “Some Poor Souls” goes down the acoustic jazz-folk alley with some nice vibes and a good vocal performance. “Love is a sleeper” is a chugging classic rock song and btw very well re-mastered with the acoustic and vibraphone touches coming through well. ‘Stop For the Traffic’ has some interesting chord progressions, but isn’t perhaps as stand out as some other tracks on the album, and perhaps that’s why it is a short track. I do find some of the mixing interesting mind you. ‘Wheels’ is altogether moodier and proggier, some organ and flute touches before some interesting acoustic guitar work.

“Song for Sinking Lovers” has a descending banjo line intro, with violin to boot giving the verse a bluegrass feel before a rocking chorus, and then two verses in hits the first of two instrumental strides, the latter more uptempo before a plaintive close. “Hey – Let It Rock” displays cool jazz vibes for a minute (literally) and “The Cat and The Rat” is a short, sweet slab of speedy retro classic rock. “93’s O.K. J” is a near four minute instrumental, melodic and cleverly constructed before a seemingly improvised percussive mid-section that reverts back to the melodic to close. If any group of songs showed this band’s versatility it is this side of the LP. “A Song for Me” is a huge slab of riff-rock – 9 minutes! – you can imagine the strutting and tight denim from here, some extended guitar and particularly violin rockouts leading into a faster close to crescendo.

Four bonus tracks make up this CD, ‘No Mule’s Fool’ a pleasant semi-acoustic number with interesting songwriter structure, ‘A Good Friend of Mine’ has nice bluesy piano, ‘Today’ is full acoustic, and the high slide guitar will be a bit marmite to people, and finally ‘Song for Lots’ is a rollicking number that, if anything has an ‘obladi’ swagger to close.

This album benefits greatly from the live versions of the album tracks recorded by the BBC. Possibly beefier, maybe more sax oriented, definitely a tighter band sound even when improvisational, and how great it is to hear the mighty John Peel! My fave? “Love is a Sleeper” live.

So what else can I say? An excellent remaster and expansion of the original album that gives it context and depth. Am I allowed to make an extended Family pun? The booklet is a similarly excellent background read, and Cherry Red Records deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.

Tracklisting:

  1. Drowned in Wine
  2. Some Poor Soul
  3. Love is a Sleeper
  4. Stop 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
  11. No Mule’s Fool (bonus)
  12. A Good Friend of Mine (bonus)
  13. Today (bonus)
  14. Song for Lots (bonus)

CD 2 – live versions (BBC Sessions etc)

Band

Roger Chapman – Vocals, percussion
John “Charlie” Whitney – guitars, banjo, organ
John Weider – guitars, bass, violin, dobro
John “Poli” Palmer – vibes, piano, flute
Robert Townsend – drums, percussion, harp
and
George Bruno – organ

Internet

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