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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Spirit's sophomore album is often cited as their second best in the group's original line-up, but I would not be the only one saying that is not so much the case. On the whole if singer Jay Ferguson is still the main writer, his share is definitely dwindling but nothing to be alarmed of. The album remains definitely psychedelic, as did all their first four albums. Spirit remains one of the better bands of the era and in the style.

As with the previous album, Spirit starts with a very strong and commercial track (which will become ultimately the second and biggest hit commercially speaking) the catchy California-penned I Got a Line On You. Hardly my fave track, it is followed by the excellent It Shall Be with a discreet and enchanting flute over a jazzy beat and horn section add to a very haunting series of verses bringing the album to a first peak. Poor Richard (the first one written by Ferguson), Drunkard (strings and a flute) and Silky Sam are short tracks presenting characters (much Like Barrett did in early Floyd) and the latter holds some interesting mid-section counter-times (insteazd of the usual solo) before reverting to its charming ditty feeling. Nothing really all that enthralling overall but all have their charms because of the permanent psych and jazz influences. Only Darlin' If is below par. California comes back with two brilliant tracks, the good All The Same and the funny Jewish, but again nothing that a demanding proghead will really be enthused by. Likewise, Dream and She Smiles are just average tracks that are neither excellent nor bad. The album closes on the astounding the Ferguson-penned Aren't You Glad (the only successful one from him on this album): easily the better track (great horns and wild solo) with It Shall Be, it cannot rise to meet the peaks of the debut album.

Bonus track-wise, there are a whopping five non-album tracks (three which came from a film-soundtrack from French filmmaker Jacques Demy's Model Shop), three of them from John Locke. Had these tracks been inserted into the album, they might have easily bettered it. The delightfully atmospheric Fog, the string-arranged So Little To Say, the virtuosish Mellow Fellow, the exciting Now Or Anywhere and the superb Space Child all bring something that was missing to the album: more instrumental interplay.

TFTPT is a slightly over-rated album that holds a few gems, but not enough to warrant a place in the major Oeuvre museum. Don't get me wrong; the album is still very worthy of discovery if you want to discover the roots of prog, of which Spirit played its role in. Not exactly blessed with a fascinating artwork either, the album does not manage to reach the fourth star classic rating without the bonus tracks.

Report this review (#94045)
Posted Wednesday, October 11, 2006 | Review Permalink
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Spirit’s second studio album would be any even more mixed-bag than their debut, with sounds ranging from jazz to folk, plus some ethnic world sounds and plenty of bluesy rock. While their next two albums would be more cohesive, with the decidedly jazz feel of ‘Clear’ and the more psychedelic ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus’, ‘The Family That Plays Together’ is really all over the place musically.

The opening track is a Randy California tune, and would prove to be the band’s biggest and most recognizable single, “I Got a Line on You”. The driving beat, matched by catchy guitar riffs and lively piano made this an instant classic, but probably served to put more pressure on the band later to produce follow-on hits.

The flute and piano intro to “It Shall Be” combine with Ray Ferguson’s vocals to yield a hazy hippy sound that is quite dated today, but was no doubt a popular concert staple back when it was released. The horns introduced here would reappear throughout the album, and add a nice dimension to their sound.

“Poor Richard” is one of a few character-sketch works on the album. California lays down some seductive sustained and wailing guitar work here, more psychedelic than most of his other works on the album, including a closing sustain that is impossibly long and may actual be one of those enhanced by the theremin he sometimes attached to the neck of his guitar (and which Jimmy Page would lift for his own use a few years later).

Another character sketch is laid out on “Silky Sam”, the story of a man who apparently put on a game face in public but was dealing with serious personal anguish. Not sure if it was intentional, but this sort of described California’s own state of mental affairs that would surface shortly after this album was released.

Jazz icon Marty Paich adds the string arrangements on “Drunkard”, which combined with flute and mellow horns gives this an altogether a kind of sanguine mood that belies the lyrics. This track signals a series of diversions that would characterize the rest of the album. For example, “Darlin’ If” actually comes off as a folksy ballad, while “Its All the Same” sounds like the guitar-driven blues dirges that made the Winters brothers famous in the early seventies. Ed Cassidy’s drum solo is actually difficult to classify, buried between the blues riffs but leaning toward jazz at the same time. “Jewish” is the most unusual work the band would put together, Hebrew lyrics and erratic rhythms that would fit well onto a world music sampler were it not for California’s distinctive west- coast guitar. This one also meanders into free-form territory for a while, particularly the piano and drums. I’ve no idea what the point of this song was, but once again the band surprises if nothing else.

The backing vocals on “Dream Within a Dream” are pure Haight-Asbury with their muddled psychedelic, ‘summer of love’ feel and idealistic lyrics. This is another song that was probably made to be played in concert.

California cranks up another ballad with “She Smiles”, a partially acoustic number with rather sad lyrics but a peacefully resigned mood to it.

The original album closes with “Aren’t You Glad”, stylistically similar to the previous track but with a soaring and intense guitar solo in the middle that gives way to a spacey jam session towards the end.

This album was completely remixed in 1996 or thereabouts, and from what I’ve read there are some significant differences to the original vinyl. I have the CD version so it would be interesting to get a hold of the 1969 album and do some comparisons some day. The reissue also has five additional tracks, some from the band’s 1991 compilation album and the others previously unreleased. Of these, “Fog” is an interesting but brief instrumental; “So Little to Say” has some good guitar and bass work but is otherwise unremarkable; “Mellow Fellow” is as close to free-form jazz as anything else they would do; and “Now or Anywhere” is brooding and sounds as if it was recorded apart from any of the other tracks on the CD. The finale is “Space Chile”, a spacey jazz number that I believe was a John Locke instrumental. An interesting and unusual end to an eclectic and unusual album.

Spirit are generally regarded as a highly underrated band of the proto-prog period, and this is generally considered one of their better works. In some respects it is a bit more consistent than their debut, as that album has at least two tracks that border on being filler. That said, the importance and influence of that first album must be appreciated in a historical context and it should be considered essential. This one should be as well, as far as I’m concerned, so four stars it is and I hope you enjoy the album. Speaking of that album, it’s of course no longer available, but if you are really interested in comparing it to the remixed 1996 release, I believe that Sun-Dazed Records has released a replica of the 1968 version on vinyl, and that can be found at specialty shops or on the web.


Report this review (#99938)
Posted Wednesday, November 22, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars Spirit's The Family That Plays Together is a lackluster follow-up to their first. That being said, these guys knew how to write a sure- fire top-40 hit single (the opening track, I Got A Line On You), But following that opening shot, we get an onslaught of slow- to medium-tempo songs, with It Shall Be, Poor Richard, and Aren't You Glad rising above the comparative mediocrity of the rest.

Now, there is a lot of interesting instrumentation here, and the expermentation of the first album continues. But I find the songwriting weak for the most part: a careful listening suggests that much of this is mere sketches of songs, with orchestration laid on top. The band is still searching for its sound, but this is nonetheless a reasonably good listen for anyone interested in late-60's West Coast psychedelia.

Report this review (#154239)
Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
4 stars Los Angeles based SPIRIT were riding high after their eponymous debut album found some success and even hit the Billboard album chart's top 40. While they just released that album in January of 1968, after the entire group and their families having moved into a big yellow house in Topanga Canyon, north of LA in the countryside, they all resided together for the tail end of the 60s. The musicians in SPIRIT had the luxury to work together in a relatively serene and relaxed environment and diligently crafted a second album that came out the same year in December. The title THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER not only refers to the fact that drummer Ed Cassidy, a forty-something year old ex-jazz percussionist having been the step-father of the teenaged guitarist Randy Craig Wolfe or better known by his stage name of Randy California, but more due to the fact that the entire band along with significant others, children, pets, vices and idiosyncratic irritations were all shacked up together on a musical compound where they could practice their own 60s version of peace and love and take their music to new places hitherto unheard. And that's exactly what they did.

SPIRIT's sophomore album shows a more mature band sound that took the psychedelic rock, contemporary folk, classical and jazz- fusion elements of the debut and found them woven together in a tight musical tapestry with that off-kilter 60s psychedelia basted in a strong steady backbeat. One again Marty Paich made a reprise with his unique stamp with arrangements for string and horns which added the proper symphonic backing that with the jazz-tinged rock pieces created a veritable progressive rock template for 70s symphonic bands to expand upon. While SPIRIT never cranked out the hit singles, the opener "I Got A Line On You" was the exception as it was the band's only top 40 hit of their existence and the one track that everyone has surely heard if they have delved into 60s music at all. While that single and the closer "Aren't You Glad" add heavier aspects of rock complemented by Randy California's use of double guitar tracks, for the most part THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is a more subdued mellow affair with the emphasis on exquisitely designed compositions that are cruising on California West Coast chill mode than anything close to the heavier Cream and Hendrix sounds of the day.

Part of SPIRIT's eclectic inspiration stemmed from the fact that Barry Hansen, who would become the kind of parody as Dr. Demento who specialized in novelty songs and comedy, had a huge collection of music in the same house that he was sharing which allowed the band to peruse the vaults for musical inspiration. And that is exactly what SPIRIT sounds like to me. There are so many tiny snippets of sounds that remind me of both past and future acts that one could rightfully write quite a lengthy thesis on the matter. The music on THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is generally characterized by a strong groovy bass line that anchors the melodic development. The guitars and keyboards provide unique and progressive counterpoints with Cassidy's jazzified drumming style adding yet another eclectic layer. The band had mastered the art of harmonic vocal interaction much like The Beach Boys or The Mamas and the Papas but were more sophisticated than the average pop band of the era despite having cleverly crafted pop hooks that took more labyrinthine liberties.

During the year 1969, SPIRIT were at their popular (if not creative) peak with two hit albums and a top 40 single under their belt. While the band never hit the big time, during this brief moment in history, it was THEY who were the headliners while bands like Led Zeppelin, Chicago and Traffic were opening for them. While at the Atlanta Pop Festival, they performed to over 100,000 music fans in the audience and Randy California rekindled his friendship with Jimi Hendrix, with whom who briefly played in Jimmy James & The Blue Flames. THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is an excellent sophomore release from SPIRIT. While the debut may have had a few more flashy jazz-fusion moments, this one has a more cohesive band sound which shows a clear dedication to finding the ultimate band chemistry at play. Laced with subtly addictive hooks and sophisticated progressive undercurrents, THE FAMILY THAT PLAYS TOGETHER is actually a little more accessible on first listen although it's slightly more angular than the average pop rock band of the era but still a testament to SPIRIT's unique musical vision.

Report this review (#1938878)
Posted Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | Review Permalink

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