A Song for Me
published: 23 /
Format: CD X2
Expanded and excellent edition of the eclectic Leicester band Family's 1970 third album
‘A Song for Me’, released in January 1970, was Family’s third album. It marked a transition for the band, as during 1969 two original members had left: bassist/violinist Ric Grech to join Blind Faith and saxophonist Jim King being dismissed some way into the sessions. The equally versatile John Weider replaced Grech, but King was not so much replaced as reimagined, with multi-instrumentalist Poli Palmer (vibes, flute and keyboards) bringing whole new sounds and textures to the band. While Jethro Tull foregrounded the flute and Curved Air the violin, Family were even more adventurous in expanding rock’s palette.
What is striking about the first disc of this package (the remastered album, plus four bonus tracks which include Jim King) is how there is no loss of cohesion or power in the revamped group. ‘Drowned in Wine’ is a declaration of intent in that respect: an acoustic intro punctuated by brass, swiftly succeeded by the band at full throttle as Roger Chapman’s vocals tap the rage of a man fighting against being throttled. Further abrupt shifts from solo acoustic to group are all expertly handled, as if this incarnation had been together for years rather than months.
Drawing adroitly at various points on rock, soul, folk, jazz and country influences, Family create contrasts both within and between tracks. After the fury of ‘Drowned in Wine’, ‘Some Poor Soul’ is an acoustic idyll with an edge of sadness, Chapman observantly tender: “Through the trees a glimmer/And a shimmer on the water/And a skimmer making tracks across the pond/A hungry bloated toad sits ugly and alone.”
The variety of styles also means that different players come to the fore at different times. Set off by Charlie Whitney’s urgent guitar riff, ‘Love Is A Sleeper’ is one instance of how Palmer’s beautifully agile vibes help a song to flow, abetted by Rob Townsend’s rolling and tumbling tom toms. On the interesting instrumental ‘93’s OK J’, vibes and acoustic guitar are the initial foundation for Weider’s bass and violin before a fast rhythm on timpani comes in. On ‘Wheels’ it’s Palmer’s flute and organ that apply the balm to Chapman’s raw passion, while banjo and violin give a melancholy country feel to ‘Song for Sinking Lovers’, though spliced with Chapman’s Otis Redding-like rasp.
The band’s collective energy, focused in Chapman’s fearsome bellow, makes ‘The Cat and the Rat’ engaging despite its conventional rock and roll feel, though the most intriguing thing about ‘Stop for the Traffic (Through the Heart of Me)’ is its title. Even with his voice issuing from both channels, Chapman’s exertions can’t rescue this rare clinker.
‘A Song for Me’ itself closes the album proper, founded on a pounding piano riff and blazing guitar, all overarched by Chapman’s fervour. Weider’s violin sawing grows more prominent as the song goes on, leading into an over-extended sped-up coda: Family usually know how much space and time to allow themselves, but this is one of the few examples of self-indulgence to remind you of the downside of this album’s progressive provenance.
The disc is capped with the A and B sides of two singles. ‘No Mule’s Fool’ displays an uncharacteristically light-hearted side, bringing together violin and banjo with the rural longing of ‘Poor Old Soul’, a longing also reflected in ‘A Song for Lots’ where “The city smells of money”. The latter is competent enough but was recognised even then as strictly B-side material.
‘Today’ is an affecting, plaintive ballad, Whitney’s keening slide guitar and a flourish of harmonies elevating it to the level of the later ‘My Friend the Sun’. Chapman sings with wistful feeling the nostalgic recollections of ‘A Good Friend of Mine’, a soulful sax floating over the coda.
The second disc is chiefly made up of versions of the album tracks, compiled from a BBC session a few months before its release (these tracks including King) and concert performances from January 1970 hosted by John Peel (by which time Palmer was in the band). There are some differences from the album versions (e.g. the brass is less strident on ‘Drowned in Wine’), but they are all good renditions, indeed there is a consistently amazing commitment from Chapman et al, whether in a studio setting or before an audience.
Despite strong commercial success with some of their singles and albums (‘A Song for Me’ reached Number 4), Family remained somewhat prone to line-up changes. Gradually success in the UK tailed off, and coupled with the failure to break through in America (unlike so many of their contemporaries), this unusual if not strange band broke up in 1973. This expanded album, however. shows them at their best in their own time, and it’s to be hoped that it will bring them fresh recognition in ours.
Drowned in Wine
Some Poor Soul
Love Is a Sleeper
Stop for the Traffic - Through the Heart of Me
Song for Sinking Lovers
Hey - Let It Rock
The Cat & The Rat
93's Ok J
A Song for Me
No Mule's Fool (Bonus Track)
Good Friend of Mine (Bonus Track)
Drowned in Sound (Live) [Bonus Track]
The Cat & The Rat (Live) [Bonus Track]
Wheels (Live) [Bonus Track]
A Song for Me (Live) [Bonus Track]
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