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Spirit - The Family That Plays Together CD (album) cover





3.79 | 79 ratings

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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.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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