The Family That Plays Together
about what's the best album released by a particular group/artist is bound to
remain a hotly debated item, at least till there are people who like to discuss
to take into account several points of view, I usually have no trouble
selecting one or two "best" albums for any given group/artist. The
only exception for this being the group Spirit.
I have no trouble admitting that The Family That Plays Together - the group's
second album, originally released on Ode at the end of '68, whose original mix
appears here for the first time since - is the Spirit album I've listened to
the most in the last four decades, which I suppose in a pragmatic sense
qualifies it as being my favourite Spirit album, and the one I know better
has made me look for the "best new edition" of this particular album
for ages. A fact that has made me perennially frustrated, till the release of
this hybrid SACD masterfully remastered by Steve Hoffman.
Family That Plays Together is not merely a "new, improved" version of
the group's first album, though it features those very qualities that had made
Spirit an undisputed classic.
is probably the right word here. This is especially true of Randy California, a brilliant presence as a guitarist on
the first album but whose contribution as a songwriter and singer until then
had been minimal. And it's Randy California's signature as songwriter and
vocalist that's the true innovation on this album. Of course, he can still play
those formidable solos, as I'll argue when discussing the individual songs.
While drummer Ed Cassidy is versatile and inventive as per his
usual, it's the group's other resident "jazzman", John Locke, who
redefines his role: more acoustic piano, many parts played on what to me sounds
like a very different electric piano than the Wurlitzer he used on the first
album. Maybe a Fender Rhodes, or a different Wurlitzer model?
The bass parts, by Mark Andes, are always quite inventive,
sometimes with a "lead" role, and quite audible now that they don't
have to compete with vinyl's noise floor. A great composer and singer, Jay
Ferguson is once again the group's fulcrum.
The credits as per the original album: Produced by Lou Adler.
Engineered by Eric Wienbang, Armin Stiener. Strings and brass arrangements by
The version reviewed here is an SACD hybrid disc that features two
layers, one in hi-rez, one with the usual CD rez, the latter being the one I
first copy of The Family That Plays Together that I bought, about forty years
ago, was an Epic re-release - no gatefold - with an orange label and no dust
jacket (at the time, I bought quite a few Epic Made in USA re-releases that had
no dust jacket, though they were still sealed: Jeff Beck, Donovan, Spirit...).
Dating records is not my forte, so I don't know whether my copy is a re-release
from 1972, which I'm told exists, or what. It goes without saying that I've
never ever seen an original Ode of this album.
always liked the "dry" sound of that Epic mix. But the sound of the
vinyl left a lot to be desired. I bought an Edsel LP hot off the presses - in
1986, when I still didn't own a CD player - and it was obvious that the vinyl
was miles better. But I always got back to my Epic LP, since to me the Edsel
sounded like it had been doctored with more than a pinch of reverb, which made
listening to whole sides a boring experience. (I experienced the same
phenomenon while listening to some MCA LPs pressed in Germany - by Steely Dan,
and Steppenwolf - in the pre-CD era, I think.) I vaguely remember a different
stereo album (on Sundazed?) with quite noisy vinyl and an
"attenuated" left channel.
double "best of" Time Circle (1991) made it possible for me to listen
to most of the songs featured on The Family That Plays Together, but in remixed
form. Strange, the "remixed" tag appeared only on that material, so
listeners were bound to believe that the mixes for the material taken from the
other three albums were the original ones on Ode.
Sony re-release with bonus tracks from 1996 featured a new mix and a new
mastering, both by Vic Anesini. I bought it, and - funny thing - in the end I
went back to my old Epic LP. Too much bass, and some mixing choices I found
questionable. Having the bass guitar and the rhythm guitar on Silky Sam louder
only made Jay Ferguson's vocals sound smaller, so making the story told in the
song smaller, and less poetic. For no reasons I could see, the vocals in the final
part on Dream Within A Dream were kept at full volume till the end, while the
partial muting of the penultimate line and the disappearance of the last line -
as on the original mix and on the Epic LP - are coherent with the
"ghostly" nature of the tale. (And what a strange discover it was,
when after thirty years I learned that what to me sounded like "Steppin'
on a watercolor" was "Steppin' off this mortal coil"!)
new version released on Audio Fidelity is what I've always hoped would exist,
but didn't. My old Epic LP can now be put to rest (well, not quite: I listened
to it again just last night...).
awake? Here's a quick introduction to the individual tracks featured here.
Got A Line On You is the group's (only, tiny) commercial move, the first song
performed by the group penned by Randy California. A light, joyful song,
featuring piano, guitars, and excellent vocals by Jay Ferguson. Great bass, a
"tiny"-sounding guitar solo, great "rock" guitar at the
Shall Be, penned by California and Locke, starts with an arpeggio for electric
piano, percussion, bass, flute, vocals, strings. There's a light vocal melody,
reeds, "bending" on the bass, strings... A lot within a simple
Richard starts with a heavy-sounding bass riff. Ensemble vocals with a
"Beatles"-influenced melody. Two harmonized guitars go solo, then
ending the song with an "infinite" feedback, while a Hammond organ
makes a rare apparition.
Sam starts with guitar arpeggios, bass, strings, then a choral explosion acting
as the song's chorus. Time for a poker game, then the song starts again. Fine
is another portrait penned by Ferguson. Strings, viola, flute. An orchestral
interlude that sounds as it's taken from a movie soundtrack, then the song
If is bound to remind one of The Band. A ballad well served by Randy
California's lead vocals and by Ferguson's background. Piano, a fine intermezzo
for arpeggiated guitar and bass, an excellent string section.
All The Same starts with a "psychedelic"-sounding effect on the right
channel, then it's time for the drums, then a riff. Highly communicative vocal
parts, a "psychedelic-rock-blues" guitar solo, (brief) drum solo.
Riff, chorus, coda.
starts with a slow cadenza, hymn-like vocals. Great twin-guitar solo, then a
guitar-bass unison (a very delicate-sounding part). Then it's back to the
Within A Dream is the first of the three contributions penned by Ferguson which
take the album to its exciting conclusion. Riff, a psychedelic scenario
("Standing on a mountain top/She's looking to the sea above her"),
great chorus, it gets faster and faster, with the sound of the pick hitting the
Smiles is a bitter-sweet ballad. Piano, a clean-sounding melody, a fine melodic
development in the chorus.
You Glad starts with an immortal melodic figure played on the piano acting as a
riff, group entrance, "flute-like" guitars, a solo "blues"
guitar playing unison with the vocals. Mood-enhancing strings, a guitar solo
with expressive bending - again, we can hear the sound of the pick hitting the
strings - which ends with "infinite" feedback, the note then sliding
over the fretboard while the piano riff appears again. A crescendo with brass
and another guitar solo with bending and - I think - just a pinch of wha-wha. A
track that will sound differently with every listening session. (Just like the
lyrics: "Streets are yours, you're feeling much bolder/But Summer's gone,
we're all a bit older/Now".)
usually don't like bonus tracks, especially so when added to works from an era
when side ending and album closing were carefully planned. The tracks added
here - they are the same that are featured on the Sony CD released in '96, but
with a new mastering by Steve Hoffman - offer many interesting points, though.
It has to be said that Fog and Now Or Nowhere, recorded and mixed at the time
the group was working on the album, had already appeared on the above-mentioned
Time Circle. The remaining tracks were mixed by Vic Anesini in '96.
by Locke e Cassidy, anticipates Clear's orchestral-movie soundtrack climates.
Arpeggio, a simple orchestral melody, "exotic"-sounding percussion, a
guitar melody sounding quite Fripp-like, strings.
Little To Say, by Ferguson, is a lively vocal ballad with piano, and a
melodic-orchestral "B" section. A track that in some ways anticipates
a lot of "soft" music of the 70s. There's a coda with reeds and
guitar, sounding half-way between Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Doors, circa
The Soft Parade.
Fellow, by Locke, starts with electric piano, percussion, a melody for solo
guitar, a melodic-sounding intermezzo that's bound to remind one of the Doors,
then an excellent guitar solo, a very well-organized drum solo, a string line
in the background. Then it's back to the piano phrase with chords, and the
Or Anywhere, by Ferguson, can be said to anticipate the more simpler-sounding,
hard-hitting rock-blues climates that appear on the group's next two albums.
"Rock" piano and lead guitar, strings and brass. An apocalyptic
ending with solo guitar, piano, strings.
Chile, by Locke, will appear, with a synth-based instrumentation, on Twelve
Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus. Here it starts with vibes, a piano arpeggio, phased
cymbals, a guitar melody. Cut, new section, piano, fine jazzy solo, cut, drum
solo, then a fine solo guitar part, the piano feeding the chords. An excellent
© Beppe Colli 2017
CloudsandClocks.net | Aug. 1, 2017