Saturday, 31 December 2016

"Family Album" by STONEGROUND featuring Sal Valentino (2016 Beat Goes On 2CD Reissue - Andrew Thompson Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...How About A Welcome For My Children..."

By the time California's STONEGROUND released the 2LP-set "Family Album" before Christmas of 1971 - their 2nd platter for Warner Brothers in a year – the San Francisco ensemble were a sprawling ten-piece Rock act fronted by ex Beau Brummel’s singer and guitarist Sal Valentino and featured no less than four other singers - all ladies (see list below).

Their self-titled debut "Stoneground" had arrived in April 1971 on Warner Brothers WS 1895 to acclaim but poor sales and their ambitious but again ignored three-sides-live-one-side-studio "Family Album" 2LP set came in December 1971 (Warner Brothers 2ZS 1956). These albums were in turn followed by "Stoneground 3" on Warner Brothers BS 2645 in December 1972 - yet none bothered the US charts in any real way despite the favourable reviews, great live rep and big-label name (members of the band would morph into the yacht rock act Pablo Cruise and enjoy six charted albums - one of which "Worlds Apart" went Top 6 in 1978).

But on hearing this sprawling and at times brilliant double album from that halcyon year - you're left wondering - why? Maybe we missed something back there? I think we did and reissue label 'Beat Goes On' of England seems to think so too. There’s a lot to love on this gorgeous-sounding 2CD reissue of this long-forgotten band and their gatefold shot at fame – there really is. Here are the rocky details...

UK released November 2016 - "Family Album" by STONEGROUND on Beat Goes On BGOCD 1263 (Barcode 5017261212634) is a 2CD Reissue of the 2LP set from 1971 (no bonus tracks) and plays out as follows:

Disc 1 (43:19 minutes):
1. Get Rhythm [Side 1]
2. Passion Flower
3. Corrina
4. Big River
5. Won't Be Long [Side 2]
6. Super Clown
7. Richland Woman
8. Queen Sweet Dreams
9. Precious Lord
Sal Valentino sings Lead Vocals on "Get Rhythm", "Big River" (both Johnny Cash cover versions) and "Queen Sweet Dreams" (his own song) and duets with Lynne Hughes on the Traditional "Corrina". Lynne Hughes sings Lead Vocals on "Passion Flower" (her own song) and "Richland Woman" (a Mississippi John Hurt cover) - Annie Simpson sings Lead Vocals on the spiritual "Precious Lord".

Disc 2 (43:30 minutes):
1. It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes A Train To Cry) [Side 3]
2. I Can't Help It
3. Ro Doreen
4. It's Not Easy
5. If You Gotta Go
6. Total Destruction Of Your Mind
7. You Must Be One Of Us [Side 4]
8. All My Life
9. Where Will I Find Love
10. Gonna Have A Good Time
11. Jam It
Disc 1 and 2 make up the double album "Family Album" - released December 1971 in the USA on Warner Brothers 2ZS 1956 (no UK issue). Sides 1, 2 and 3 recorded live by KSAN Radio in San Francisco, Sunday 8 August 1971 using the Pacific High Recording Studios in front of an audience of 200 invited guests. Side 4 is the studio side (Tracks 7 to 11 on Disc 2) and was recorded at the Record Plant in Los Angeles.

SAL VALENTINO - Lead Vocals, Guitar and Percussion
TIM BARNES - Lead Guitar and Backing Vocals
CORY LERIOS - Keyboards

BGO's now generic card slipcase adds the 2016 2CD reissue a classy look and the superb 12-page liner notes from noted wrier JOHN O'REGAN give a potted and affectionate history of the band's many line-up changes - explaining their history and unfortunate lack of commercial success (the public seemed indifferent to them no matter what they did). The original double vinyl LP was a gatefold sleeve laid out (not surprisingly) in a 'family album' way with pictures of all 10 players on the inner gatefold - that spread is reproduced on the inner two page spread. I still can't definitively say who sings lead on which track (the original never said) and O'Regan doesn't illuminate either. But I can say that audio-wise this is a gorgeous-sounding recording - a beautiful 'high definition' audiophile transfer from original masters by ANDREW THOMPSON that really gives the recordings an ethereal, loose and casually cool feel.

Stoneground's sound isn't easy to nail - probably a good reason as to why they were difficult to market. For this mainly-live (3 sides) double album with Valentino mostly out front singing - best approximation is early Little Feat 'live' with Leon Russell at the microphone - a combo most Seventies Rock fans would gladly embrace. They also had a knack of making very obvious 'cover versions' their own - and this is evident in their very Stoneground reworked takes on Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" and their boogie organ-driven version of Dylan's "If You Gotta Go" - turned into a Soul raver with one of the ladies getting all Tina Turner on its funky ass.

Reviewers complained at the time that the clearly sparse 'invited 200' audience members seemed just a little too vocal in their appreciation of the group giving some of the live cuts an awkward and false feel – but I'd say that this happens so little it's an utterly mute point. More likely that 1971 was such a huge year for rock (Hepworth's book "Never A Dull Moment" nails this argument convincingly) - reviewers were literally spoilt for choice and got a bit nasty on bands that weren't immediately sensational. But I suspect that the real problem was a lack of killer hits. The songs are good and at times - the rhythms funky and inspired – but there's no Top 10 winner on here. Even when they're tackling the Jerry Williams song "Total Destruction Of Your Mind" which they funk up into a sort of Geno Washington and The Ram Jam Band rave up complete with drum solo – or have a go at Dusty Springfield's "Won't Be Long" turning it into an Aretha Franklin Atlantic Records bopper – they sound like a great covers band and that's all – it's good but not distinctive enough to make their own mark.

The lonesome slide guitar and lone voice of "Precious Lord" is chillingly brilliant though – sparse - like Ry Cooder sat on a chair with Doris Troy letting rip on a microphone nearby – her eyes closed – feeling every righteous word. Of the studio stuff Ron Nagle's "You Must Be One Of Us" has Sal Valentino sounding like the recently passed Leon Russell finding his inner Delta Lady. Keyboardist Cary Lerios supplied the mushy love song "All My Life" while Lynne Hughes gives us the better "Where Will I Find Love" – a very Delaney and Bonnie Soul-Rock funky dancer. There's amazing audio on the I-feel-good rocker "Gonna Have A Good Time” and near six-minute instrumental "Jam It" chugs along like The Allman Brothers having a Rock-Funk workout in the studio in-between "Brothers And Sisters" outtakes.

Piano player Pete Sears who played on their debut would later feature in Hot Tuna and Jefferson Starship and along with Ian McLagan became a member of the house band that played on Rod Stewart's mighty trio of classic albums - "Gasoline Alley", "Every Picture Tells A Story" and "Never A Dull Moment". Cory Lerios, Steve Price and David Jenkins would form Pablo Cruise and sign to A&M Records for major chart success in the Seventies. Stoneground went on make more albums that no one remembers - even returning to Warner Brothers in 1978 for the "Hearts Of Stone" LP in 1978. There's a website to the band that tells you bugger all info about them...

To sum up - there's much to dig here and as I listen to the announcer tell the audience to 'give it up' for his children in Stoneground (his words title this review) - I'm thinking he was onto to something with the ignored double "Family Album".

Fans of 1971 need to check this superb-sounding 2CD reissue out. And well done to BGO for doing such a top quality job...

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