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For those who have never heard of Family before they were what used to be called an 'underground' rock band much loved and played by the likes of John Peel and Bob Harris back in the heady days of the late 60s and early 70s. Mystic Records have re-issued the bands' final five studio albums plus a previously unreleased live album and given them the overhaul treatment - so every album now comes complete with a handful [or more] of extra tracks, many of them live, and an extended inlay booklet full of lyrics, interviews and anecdotes and rare photographs. If you are an old fan you're going to love this...
The strength of Family lay in the songwriting talents of vocalist Roger Chapman and multi-instrumentalist John Whitney - they took in rock, blues, jazz and country elements and came up with a sound that was uniquely theirs, helped in no large fashion by Chapman's unconventional voice.
I don't have the space to discuss each album in depth, so here are the highlights: A Song For Me - contains the hit single No Mule's Fool, the country-fried Song For Sinking Lovers and a pretty rat-arsed but funky instrumental 93's OK J. Anyway... - the second album from 1970 and a hybrid studio and live album. No singles but pretty anonymous sounding, if I'm being honest. Fearless dates from 1971, saw a new line-up including John Wetton and includes the hit single In My Own Time - the album is more adventurous, much lighter in tone and with several jazzy elements in the music. 1972's Bandstand was pretty much the bands' highpoint, an album that I remember sold well at the time and had one of that era's most distinctive covers... and it included the classic Burlesque and the dreamy My Friend The Sun, plus this new version now includes live versions of No Mule's Fool and The Weavers Answer. It's Only A Movie dates from 1973 and was the bands final album, featuring another line-up that included Tony Ashton and Jim Cregan replacing Poli Palmer and John Wetton. The album has a bluesy bar room feel to it, musically sloppy but just right, if you know what I mean. I was rather taken with the instrumental, Banger. Finally we come to Family Live, a previously unreleased set from 1971 and recorded at the Rainbow, which shows the band in confident form.
So six albums covering quite a chunk of Family's career. I have to admit that I was never a fan of the band back in the 70s and to be honest nothing I've heard here has changed that opinion, but Mystic have done a fine job remastering these albums and adding the sorts of 'goodies' that the fans will want, namely unreleased tracks, live tracks and excellent sleevenotes and photos. The band have been done proud with these releases and if you are a fan snap them up quickly.
Mystic Records have done it again and revived another old rocker from the halycon days of British rock. Pete Brown may not be a household name as such but he wrote many of the hits for Cream, and led several bands during the 70s, including Batter Ornaments and Piblokto - all of which I seemed to miss at the time. Brown has stayed the course with music and this live album was recorded at London's Borderline Club during late 2002. As with Cream, most of Brown's songs veer towards the blues and extended workouts for the guitarist, Mo Nazam, and organist Dave 'Munch' Moore. Apart from the Cream classics The Politician, White Room and Theme For An Imaginary Western, I was unfamiliar with the rest of the twelve songs on this cd, so I can't really say whether Pete Brown was on form or not. The band rock well and his careworn voice obviously suits the material, but I didn't really connect with the album. However, if you are an old-time Cream fan and anticipating the just announced reunion then you might like this to be going on with.
The blues has always found a welcome home in Europe with many an American bluesman finding a home in France, Britain or even Scandanavia. The latest in this long line is Joe Turner, former bass player for BB King, who lived in Chedigny in France for several years and even established a blues festival there. My French Connection is a collection of his songs based on his life experiences both in the Mississippi Delta and then in France. Mr Turner shares the vocal duties along with the raunchy-voiced Ladonna Smith, and is backed by a group very funky Frenchmen. His own vocals have a warm, gruff tone, similar to that of Isaac Hayes. On the whole this is quite an uptempo set of tracks, with a collection of songs to get the foot tapping and the head nodding to the bass. And while it may have been recorded in France and London it evokes Chicago and the deep south. Track highlights for me are Beale St Boogie, Some Day and My Regrets. It has long been held by non blues lovers that the blues are dead, but you only have to listen to this album to realise that that is a load of bollocks, the blues are very much alive, especially in the capable hands of 'Big' Joe Turner.
Back in the early 70s Jess Roden was one of the best kept secrets of the British rock scene - a musicians' musician and a blues/soul singer of high reputation but who never really broke through and sold a lot of records or made the charts. Back then this type of rock music was the staple diet for countless pubs and blues clubs, and it paved the way for pub-rock and later the new wave rock movements. Roden eventually retired from the music scene until the early 90s when he returned and formed The Humans and started to build up a strong rep for putting on a great gig - again. The Humans include guitarist Gary Grainger [ex-Rod Stewart band], bassist Nick Graham [ex-Skid Row], guitarist Bill Burke and drummer Leo Brown.
This live album dates back to 1996 and was recorded at the famous Robin Hood club outside Birmingham, and was the last gig the band ever performed. The overall sound is classic British-style blues-rock with some soul added to the mix, and on most of the nine tracks here the band rock mightily. Along with several band-penned songs, the Humans burn the stage up with Willie Dixon's I Live The Life I Live, Buddy Guy's Let Me Love You Baby, Joe Tex' You'd Better Believe It, and a particularly corruscating version of Neil Young's Rockin' In The Free World. For a live album the audience are surprisingly quiet for most of the time, but the band are on great form and this is a great record of a working band doing their thing to the max. If John Mayall, Chicken Shack, Cream, Dr Feelgood mean anything to you then you will definitely want to hear this album. Two words - Buy it!
Mystic Records certainly have a thing about reviving singers and bands from the 60s and 70s, and there is nothing wrong with that at all, God knows the musicians from that period were and are real musicians and not the bland plastic non-talented clones that seem to choke up the charts nowadays. Shiva Shakti consists of Shiva Jones, who was formerly in Quintessence, and Rudra Beauvert - I must admit that Quintessence was another 70's band that I missed at the time, but if the contents of this new album is similar to their sound then I'll have to try and find some of their old albums...
OK, so what is Shiva Shakti like? Well, I guess you could call it an amalgam of the hippy ethic, eastern mysticism and a healthy mix of funkiness and soul. The album contains reworkings of five Quintessence [all old favourites, according to the press release] tracks and the rest are original to the new band. At times like on More Than Meets The Eye the dialogue samples collide with the funky beats and the outcome is rather weird but hugely enjoyable. Ultimately this is an album that leaves you feeling 'up', which is its intention, and one can't help wishing more albums did that in these confusing times. Highly recommended.
Tyla Gang - Yachtless
(MYS CD 162)
This is a reissue of the Tyla Gang's 1977 debut album, which originally appeared on the Beserkley label. Rather than following the punk template that was fashionable in 1977 the band came out of the disintegrating pub-rock scene and their boogie rock style fitted more into the new labels' burgeoning New Wave marketing portfolio. And so here we are in 2003 with an album that still sounds freshly minted and a damn sight better than most of the stuff by any up and coming band you care to mention.
The Tyla Gang comprised Sean Tyla on guitars, keyboards and lead vocals, Brian Turrington on bass, marimbas, Bruce Irvine on lead guitars and Michael Desmarais on Drums. This reissue of Yachtless includes an extra six bonus tracks, including singles (Hurricane, Suicide Jockey and Styrofoam) and pre-Tyla Gang recordings, so it should be a 'must have' for any fans of the band who want to enjoy that golden glow of nostalgia.
I have to say that I don't really remember the Tyla Gang the first time around - 1977 was an explosive year for pop music with the punk and new wave movements growing exponentionally and there was an explosion of new bands to explore, and of course some just got missed. So hearing this album now is simply a pure joy, the blues-based rocking sound cuts through the chaff of so much of the crap being issued now. This was real rock music - where's Tommy Vance when you need him!
Roger Chapman's Riff Burglars
(MYS CD 165)
Now here's a name that goes right back to my callow youth in those heady days when the 60's slid into the 70s! Roger Chapman was the singer with Family, at the time a very successful rock band. Chapman eventually went solo and disappeared in the UK, only to find a lot of success in Germany and across Europe. So that's the back story - this double album collects together two albums Chapman made with a variety of friends back in 1982/3. These friends include Boz Burrell, Tim Hinkley, Micky Moody, Zoot Money and many others, all listed under pseudonyms such as Reverend Stovepipe, Seude Soupspoon, Ramblin' Ray Rubble and suchlike.
The first album is called The Legendary Funny Cider Sessions and the other is called Swag. These two albums were recorded for a laugh and contain a large selection of classic blues, r 'n' b and rock and roll classics all done in what I guess you would call 'party style'. Some of the songs included are Havana Moon, Wang Dang Doodle, Downbound Train, The Shadow Knows, Who Do You Love, Harlem Shuffle, Sea of Heartbreak and loads more.
These albums are great fun to listen to and pretend to be nothing other than a bunch of rockers letting their hair down and having fun. Thankfully, the performances are 'straight' and stand up to repeated listening.
If I tell you that Stan Webb and his band Chicken Shack date back to the 60's blues rock boom and the heady days of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers when "Eric Clapton is God" was graffitti'd on the walls then you'll appreciate the wry irony of the album title. This is unabashedly a live album by a hard gigging band who may not have had the big hit albums of other blues rockers but have consistently recorded and gigged across four decades - and that deserves a lot of respect!
Still Live... was recorded on a German tour last year and it is as good a live document as you can get of a hard rocking touring band doing what they do best, playing the blues in their own style. This version of Chicken Shack consists of Stan Webb on guitar and vocals, Gary Davies: guitar, Jim Rudge: bass and Mick Jones: drums, plus the Shadow Horns section on the second half of the album.
I always did like blues rock back then though somehow I never connected with Chicken Shack, so this album has a double interest for me. Stan Webb has a reflective guitar style which rocks loudly when required but is often quite dreamy and slightly sad on the quieter passages - check out The Thrill Is Gone to see what I mean. The album is made up of a number of Webb originals alongside blues and country standards like Reconsider Baby, Night Life, and his one hit, I'd Rather Go Blind, plus a Beatles number, Saw Her Standing There.
For a live album the audience are strangely reticent for most of the album, which allows one to focus on the playing, and this is a band that rocks, but comes really to life when the Shadow Horns kick in. I'm sure that Chicken Shack fans will buy this album stroingly, but it should also appeal to those discovering blues rock now.