Wednesday, 17 August 2016

"Music In A Doll's House" by FAMILY (2003 Charly/Pucka 'Super Bit Mapped' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...All Things Remembered..."

I really have a dislike for Charly Records on CD and all its holding companies and side-names - their stuff is always budget-feel with no mastering credits - sounds like other better labels (they've been done in court over this) - and I'm afraid their 'Pucka' label version of Family's debut album "Music In A Doll's House" (1968) is no different. Having said that the audio is undeniably great and given the rarity of the original British vinyl LP (never mind the superior Repertoire CD reissue of a few years ago in Repro artwork and the December 2014 Japanese SHM-CD now both being so expensive) – PUC 701 is the most reasonable way to get this Sixties masterpiece into your home in digital form.

The spine declares that its 'SBM - Super Bit Mapping' without ever saying from what or where. But at least the six-leaf foldout inlay has decent ROGER DEPSON liner notes that outlay the songwriting history behind these audacious Whitney-Chapman creations (they wrote all tracks except "Never Like This" which was penned by Dave Mason of Traffic) and there's a great period photo of the band beneath the see-through CD-tray. Here are the nitty gritty details...

UK released June 2003 - "Music In A Doll's House" by FAMILY on Charly/Pucka PUC 701 (Barcode 827565001026) is a straightforward CD transfer (with Super Bit Mapping) of the 1968 15-track LP in Stereo and plays out as follows (37:06 minutes):

1. The Chase
2. Mellowing Grey
3. Never Like This
4. Me My Friend
5. Variation On A Theme Of Hey Mr. Policeman
6. Winter
7. Old Songs New Songs
8. Variation On A Theme Of The Breeze
9. Hey Mr. Policeman [Side 2]
10. See Through Windows
11. Variations On A Theme Of Me My Friend
12. Peace Of Mind
13. Voyage
14. The Breeze
15. 3 x Time
Tracks 1 to 15 are their debut album "Music In A Doll's House" - released July 1968 in the UK on Reprise RLP 6312 (Mono) and Reprise RSLP 6312 (Stereo) - the STEREO mix is used. Produced by DAVE MASON (of Traffic) - JIMMY MILLER of Rolling Stones fame co-produced "The Breeze" and "Peace Of Mind" - the LP peaked at No. 35 on the UK LP charts.

ROGER CHAPMAN - Lead Vocals, Tenor Saxophone and Harmonica
JOHN WHITNEY – Lead and Steel Guitar
JIM KING – Tenor and Soprano Saxophone, Harmonica and Vocals
RIC GRECH – Bass, Violin, Cello and Vocals
ROB TOWNSEND – Drums and Percussion

It opens with the utterly extraordinary vocals of Roger Chapman sounding like Joe Cocker on one too many amphetamines - but as the challenging mini-Prog opera of "The Chase" settles down and segues into the undeniably pretty "Mellowing Grey" - a Violin and Cello ballad enveloped in Mellotron - you're reminded of The Zombies "Odyssey And Oracle" and other such musical brilliance (lyrics from it title this review). Dave Mason's "Never Like This" never showed on a Traffic album (or indeed a solo LP) and its "Hole In My Shoe" London-hippy whimsy still stands up as Chapman tells us of the girl with faraway eyes who pours tea and then asks " many it two...why not make it five..." Reprise tried the flanged and upbeat guitar of the 'so 60ts' melody "Me My Friend" as a 45 on Reprise RS 23270 in July 1968 - but it tanked. With "Hey Mr. Policeman" on the flip-side - the original British issue on one of those wonderful Reprise yellow labels is much harder to find than its £20+ price tag would indicate. For me "Winter" is one the album's highlights and I've always thought should have been the lead-off 45 - it's soaring melody and restrained Chapman vocal and layered production - had Sixties hit written all over it for me.

The harmonica and saxophone boogie of "Old Songs New Songs" would name the June 1971 compilation album "Old Songs New Songs" (Reprise RPM 9007) that remixed older Reprise material for the audience that picked up on the band after the No. 7 chart success of the "Anyway" LP in November 1970. I'd forgotten how good it is and again those unbelievable Chapman vocals still amaze to this day (dig those choir-like interludes as they sing "...Old Songs...New Songs...Keep On Singing..."). The band also gets to stretch out on those Saxophones. Another short (25 seconds) but cute 'interlude' in "Variation On A Theme Of The Breeze" before we get the sinister "Hey Mr. Policeman" where the singer admits that he'd 'kill for that woman' to the backdrop of drunken slide guitars and country violins - the band sounding like Frank Zappa's Mothers with too many whiskey shots. That same menace permeates "See Through Windows" - the lyrics enacted out in Julian Cottrell's photos on the front sleeve (great guitar solo in this tune). A sitar 20-second 'Variation' swirls in and then disappears before we get the brilliant "Peace Of Mind" - another potential 7" single (co-produced by Jimmy Miller of The Rolling Stones fame). "Voyage" tests my patience the most - all mad guitars and Mellotron sinister - but never quite working for me. Better is the stunning melody running through the 'skirts and trousers' tale of English folk in Parks and on beaches in "The Breeze" - for me the album's most ingenious and accessible song. Family's debut album ends on a surprisingly mellow and upbeat note - like The Kinks first being melodious before deciding - to Hell with it - let's get all knees-up and complicated. 

Roger Depson's liner note surmise that the album was probably 'centuries' ahead of its time and for sure it will not be everyone's cup of Darjeeling in 2016. But if you're prepared to open up those miniature windows and take a peekaboo - there's amazing music inside this 1968 doll's house...

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