sun 04/12/2016

Reissue CDs Weekly: Family, Latin Noir, Arve Henriksen, Widowmaker | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Family, Latin Noir, Arve Henriksen, Widowmaker

Reissue CDs Weekly: Family, Latin Noir, Arve Henriksen, Widowmaker

Leicester’s freakiest musical sons in a box, moodiness from sun-baked climes, esoteric Norwegian jazz and lost Seventies rockers

Family, circa 1969: happy with their strangeness


Family Once Upon a TimeFamily: Once Upon a Time

Family were always difficult to place. This lavish box set doesn’t make getting a handle on them any easier. They were as idiosyncratic as Jethro Tull and, in Roger Chapman, had a vocalist as offbeat as Joe Cocker. Not that they sounded like either, more that their DNA was as sharp-edged as both. The Leicester-born band had roots in soul-pop outfit The Farinas and the psychedelic underground embraced them – they were integral to the 1969 novel Groupie, a lid-lifting, supposedly fictional, exposé of rock’s seamier side. Despite these leg-ups and their popularity, they were never embraced wholeheartedly by the mainstream and failed to break America.

A run through the 14 CDs and a read of its finely designed hardback book suggests why. They were too wobbly a proposition. Roots-slanted rockers drawing on folk and blues, they brought jazzy, shuffling drums into the mix too. Their best songs are portmanteau pieces with quiet/loud extremes that posit them as a precursor to The Pixies. Chapman’s intense voice takes on more and vibrato the louder and louder it becomes. Melody and linear songwriting were not their forté. Surging and subsiding like a storm was. Occasionally, as with the single “Burlesque”, the formula coalesced into something close to the chug of Free. Their line-up was unstable too, changing on an almost album-by-album basis. The bizarre television clip included below is all the evidence needed to show how Family could never be at one with pop.

Once Upon a Time includes all their albums from 1968’s Music in a Doll's House to 1973’s It's Only a Movie, a 1971 concert (first out on CD in 2003 as Family Live), two discs of unreleased material (a lot are backing tracks – missing one of Family’s selling points: i.e. Chapman’s warble), three CD replicas of singles, the well-illustrated book and a collection of contemporaneous articles. Their 1967 debut single “Scene Through the Eye of a Lens” is also included, as is a certificate signed by Chapman. The limited edition is billed as “the definitive last word on Family”. Given that some of the albums collected here have received the Deluxe Edition treatment over the last year, this smacks of marketing hyperbole, and the appearance of Once Upon a Time will evoke a sigh from anyone who purchased them. It's only available from a specifically-created web outlet for £125.

Latin Noir Everything Happens on the BeachVarious Artists: Latin Noir - Everything Happens on the Beach

The neat concept behind this collection of Latin-world tracks is to eschew the sunny and happy, and instead focus on the dark and moody. Even so, danceable rhythms are never far away as it’s compiled by Berlin-based producer/DJ Sonia Brex. It opens with “Tierra Colorada”, a mournful air from the Argentinian accordionist Chango Spasiuk. Mood set, it’s into lamentation (Seguiores del Son’s “Todo eso”) and evocations of loss tinged with hope (Ana Cristina Pozo and Omar Perez’s “Déjames me Que te Lleve”). “La Negra Tomas”, heard here by Grupo El Organo Pinareňo, was later recorded by Buena Vista Social Club as “Mandinga”. Setting the downbeat alongside the more energised, Latin Noir does have a stop-start flow. But them’s the breaks when melancholy takes over.

Arve Henriksen SolidificationArve Henriksen: Solidification

This super-smart box set of the esoteric Norwegian jazzer is, unlike the Family collection, non-linear and obviously not intended to tell a full story. It’s opaqueness leaves the mystery intact. It’s also the only way to get Henriksen’s new album Chron. The fresh recording is accompanied by his first three solo albums Sakuteiki, Chiaroscuro and Strjon. Bonus tracks have been added. Each album is included on vinyl and also digitally across two DVDs in hi-res FLAC format, master-quality 24/44 or 24/96 WAV files and as 16/44 files. While the writing in the book is insightful, the vinyl is the most satisfying format. The music is minimal, often Japanese-inflected, mostly instrumental (Henriksen sings on Chiaroscuro) and about sensitive atmospheres. Its touches of electronica are non-intrusive. It all sharply contrasts with his work in the improvising Supersilent and with the Christian Wallumrød Ensemble. After assimilating Solidification, it makes sense that he has recorded for ECM and also collaborated with David Sylvian. For reasons of cost, this is pobably not the best entry point into Henriksen’s oeuvre. Nonetheless, it's a major statement of his significance.

WidowmakerWidowmaker: Widowmaker

This obscure rock album from 1976 was issued by a band that failed to click. A supergroup of sorts, Widowmaker were fronted by singer Steve Ellis, formerly of Sixties popsters The Love Affair and featured guitarists Luther Grosvenor (ex-Mott The Hoople) and Huw Lloyd Langton (exHawkwind). Family’s Roger Chapman was originally under consideration as lead vocalist. Widowmaker had the breaks: support slots with The Who, a contract with Don Arden’s Jet Records and a US tour supporting label mates ELO. The album – supplemented here by a few live tracks – unfolds like a multi-band compilation. Led Zeppelin here, Free there, and some Bad Company, Humble Pie and Lynyrd Skynyrd too. The efficient music is supplemented by template lyrics about being on the road, dreams and ladies. “Pin a Rose on Me” could have been a stadium singalong. But the success of the bands they emulated never rubbed off on Widowmaker. Punk was around the corner and they folded after a second album in 1977.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch Family mime “Old Songs New Songs” from Music in a Doll’s House on French TV in 1968

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