FEARLESS showcases this seminal British band at their pinnacle. Their following album, BANDSTAND, is great as well -- but on this cd, they shine as on no other in their catalogue. Their influences were many -- blues, jazz, pop, progressive, folk -- but they generally always rocked.
Roger Chapman's unique vocals led the way -- his trademark bluesy growl could belong to no one else. He's been compared to Joe Cocker -- Cocker has become almost a parody of himself, something Chapman avoided. Chapman and his writing partner, guitarist Charlie Whitney, were responsible for the core of Family's sound [After Family's eventual demise, they continued their collaborative work in the band Streetwalkers]. Poli Palmer adds some fine keyboard work, and the rhythm section of rock-steady drummer Rob Townsend and (new to the band on this album) bassist/vocalist extraordinaire John Wetton (later to move on to King Crimson) rounded out the group.
The album begins with the folk-like opening of 'Between Blue and me', which builds nicely as Chapman's voice moves from its first restrained lines toward the second verse, where the first-time listener finds that something special awaits. The band then moves on to 'Sat d-y barfly' -- a gin-soaked, rollicking ode in praise of over-indulgence. 'Larf and sing', a Poli Palmer composition, follows, full of some really inventive, multi-part harmonies, offering a lighter look at the band's philosophy of their work and of life: 'That's why we all larf and sing whenever we all feel blue -- you should see the way we grin whenever you feel it, too...love, o Mother Life, she's the only kin we've got'.
The following track, 'Spanish tide', is one of the most amazing under-4-minutes tunes I've ever heard in rock music. Over this short space of time, the song effortlessly and seamlessly glides through enough changes that the listener would swear the time listing is wrong -- and not because it's tedious, but just because there's so much packed into this song. We're treated to a little of John Wetton's distinctive vocals on this tune as well, a portent of things to come with King Crimson.
'Save some for me' keeps the pace up -- 'As living's for free, I'm going to save some for thee...' -- with another statement of the band's outlook, complete with some fine work by the Ladbroke Horns, who add their creatie touches to the album in other places as well. 'Take your partners' continues to rock, and then the band relaxes a bit with the quieter, folkier 'Children'. Poli Palmer's instrumental offering 'Crinkly grin' comes next, letting the players stretch out nicely. Two of the band's most incredible tunes close out the original album -- 'Blind' and the uncommonly powerful 'Burning bridges'...'...burning your bridges with God's holy fire...' God's holy fire is what Family played with.
This cd edition finishes up with a couple of rareties, two songs recorded during the sessions for this album: 'In my own time', which was released as a single and became their highest-charting single ever in the UK; and 'Seasons', the B-side.
Recorded and released orignally in 1971, FEARLESS effectively showcases the giant talents of this band. My only regret is that I never got to see them live -- from the reports I've read, they were a powerhouse concert act.
Turn it up, Louise...!