Reviews: Family, Cracker, Rowan: Morrison, Dio, Alice Cooper, The Faces, Black Sabbath

A round-up of new and notworthy vinyl and CDs, including Family's BBC box set and Black Sabbath's best compilation on red vinyl via Rhino.
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By Dave Thompson

It’s one of the most heartfelt laments of the modern collecting age.Whenever a new box set appears on vinyl, the CD obsessives cry “what about us?” And whenever one appears on CD….

In fairness, a lot of the latter are now so voluminous that a vinyl equivalent would be all-but-impossible. How many LPs, for example, would Pink Floyd’s The Early Years have demanded?And what would have been the point, anyway, considering the bulk of the best stuff was on DVD?

Something about Family’s newly released At the BBC box (Madfish), however, simply screams out for a waxen replica.Seven CDs wouldn’t translate to too many discs (a dozen, maybe?), and think of how great they would look, lined up alongside the rest of the records.In life, Family released just seven albums, with 2013’s Once Upon a Time collection adding two more CDs worth of rarities.A vinyl BBC box would double that total, and it’s no more than Family deserve.

This new set rounds up everything that has previously appeared across the band’s past BBC live and session collections, plus twenty previously unreleased recordings, including two complete (and fabulous) sets from 1968; odd cuts omitted from previous session releases; and the band’s 1969 appearance on the BBC’s legendary Colour Me Pop TV show - audio only, but at least it’s here.There are, the accompanying hardback book admits, still a number of missing BBC recordings, including two from Family’s maiden session in 1967.Otherwise, however, this is as complete as it gets, and it’s magnificent.

With everything laid out in chronological order, the seven audio discs truly capture not only the best of Family, but also Family at their best.Deathless though their regular albums are, it was in the live environment that the band truly soared, and that mood persists through both the concert broadcasts included here, and the session recordings, as well.

Remember, they too were recorded under more-or-less live conditions, working against the clock to squeeze all the songs into a couple of hours of studio time, and the twenty-four sessions that Family recorded still rank among the most compulsive that any band taped for the BBC - this is an archive that has been crying out for a thorough examination since the BBC first began releasing sessions on record, back in the mid-1980s, and its omission from the last box set was probably that set’s only flaw.Now we know why, and the wait was worthwhile.

The sound quality isn’t always pristine - lost by the BBC itself, several sessions seem to have been sourced from private collections, taped from the radio at the time of broadcast.There are clipped starts and finishes, a hint of distortion here and there, but hey, they simply add to the overall mood of the package.Add the aforementioned hardback book, likewise packed with both professional and amateur photos, and a DVD stuffed with five separate BBC TV broadcasts, and Family at the BBC has to rank among the most essential BBC collections yet released.And it looks great, too.(But a vinyl version would look even better.)

Still on the subject of CDs that should be vinyl, another popular topic on sundry forums is devoted to 1990s/2000s-era albums that have yet to be reissued on LP.Spin Cycle’s own contribution to this topic has never been vast, but it has been shortened even further by the recent appearance of Cracker’s second LP, 1993’s Kerosene Hat (Music on Vinyl).And our joy is boundless.

The hits “Low” and “Get Off This” are most people’s entry into what became the band’s first platinum album, but that is all they are - the doorway. “Take Me Down to the Infirmary,” “Sweet Potato” and a cover of the Dead’s “Loser” are the true LP highlights, while the final side of this well-stuffed double album is devoted to the bonus tracks that stretched the original CD out to 99 tracks… most of them were silent (and they are omitted here).

But “Eurotrash Girl” (originally track 69) remains one of the most rousing pop laments of the nineties; “I Ride My Bike” (track 88) is manic punk rock; and an acoustic version of the title track (99) is as gloriously shambolic as the earlier, full version is… well, there are those who describe “Kerosene Hat” not simply as David Lowery’s greatest-ever composition, but one of Americana’s finest moments. And they’re right.A sprawling blues full of captivating imagery (“don't you bother me death with your leathery ways and your old chaise lounge”) and a spellbinding cast of medicine show characters, “Kerosene Hat” still calls out for an accompanying video.Or even a movie.

There’s a new album from Rowan Amber Mill, a one-man project from the depths of the English wyrd folk canon, united here with singer Angeline Morrison as, very sensibly, Rowan: Morrison.And while In The Sunshine, We Rode Horses (Miller Sounds) is, sadly, CD-only, it comes exquisitely packaged in a tin stuffed with prints, buttons and a sticker, and the disc itself is what we call a vinyl replica, so that’s alright then.

Over an hour of music draws you into a world of dark wood, dappled sunlight, ancient monuments and forgotten traditions, haunted harmonies and a gentle stillness that utterly belies the sense of shifting shadows and flickering movement that hangs around the headphones. For this is an album for playing in solitude, losing yourself in the lyrics’ journey along one of England’s ancient trackways, distracted from the distractions of the world around you.

Musically, it’s largely acoustic (of course) and astonishingly melodic, even if the tunes do initially hide themselves away… the Third Ear Band come to mind in places, Trees and Pentangle too.Conceptually, however, it’s the soundtrack to the world that we lose every time another mound of modernity is given permission to sweep away a piece of the past.And, when it finishes and you come back to earth, you wonder why albums this spellbinding are still leaking out on small boutique labels, when it ought to be sung from the rooftops.

Rhino’s annual Rocktober releases emerged, indeed, in October, and this may have been the most enjoyable bucketload yet. Three classic Dio albums, for example (Sacred Heart, Strange Highway and Dream Evil) arrive, respectively, in clear, purple and green vinyl, and they look as great as they ought to. Anybody who has set out to replace their original pressings of these will know how hard it is to find a reasonably priced copy that has not been scratched to smithereens, so now your search is at an end.

Likewise, the latest triptych of Alice Cooper reissues grants us the chance to pick up afresh Goes to Hell(orange), Lace and Whiskey (brown) andFrom The Inside (green and black swirl) - three albums which may not have been hailed as classics back in the day, but which have certainly matured since then.

Goes to Hell, after all, was always overshadowed by “I Never Cry,” and such frankly un-Alicey numbers as “I’m the Coolest” and “You Gotta Dance.” But the opening title track is Cooper in excelsis, and worth any number of disappointments elsewhere, while Lace and Whiskey peaks not only with “Ubangi Stomp” and the glorious “I Never Wrote Those Songs,” but delivers some career best crazy talk across “King of the Silver Screen” - a song so conceptually bizarre that it’s almost fitting that its inclusion isn’t mentioned on the cover.We also get “Love at Your Convenience,” Alice’s best ever stab at disco, and that’s enough to render this one of his finest solo shots ever.

A clear vinyl repressing of The FacesSnakes and Ladders best of struggles to live up to its billing, simply because so much of that band’s output was demanding to be included.The twelve tracks that made it do, of course, fit the bill and include the hit singles at the same time as they omit “Maybe I’m Amazed,” “Debris,” “Memphis”…ah, and so many more. But a couple of the 45s were making their first ever LP appearance, and while there’ve been plenty of Faces comps since this, Snakes and Ladders did it first.

And finally… We Sold Our Souls for Rock ’n’ Rollhas to be one of the most ghastly (not to mention pointless) album titles ever conceived. But still it remains one of the all-time greatest “best of” compilations ever schemed, as Black Sabbath lumber across seventeen songs from their first six albums, with nary a wrong step anywhere.

Maybe the first album is over-represented (five out of seven tracks, and “The Warning” really could have been skipped)); maybe Master of Reality is seriously underplayed (just two songs).Four cuts from Volume 4 eschew “Supernaut” and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath deserved far more than its title track.But ,for what it is… four sides of brain-charring blues-metal, newly pressed in red vinyl and drawn from the catalog’s excellent 2012 remaster… We Sold Our Souls hits all the conventional highlights, and it’s perfect for those nights when you want to hear Sabbath at their finest.Again, as we saw with the Faces, there’s been a lot of Sabbath compilations since this first came out.But none have done it better.

Parts of this Spin Cycle were first published in Goldmine, March 2019.