In the early ’70s, Father’s Children were caught in a weird moment: between damaged soul and spaced out funk, between ’60s turmoil and ’70s New Age idealism, between salvation and doom. The group might be remembered for commercial-sounding music it made Mercury Records later in the decade, but some of the recordings it made in 1972 are a revelation.
And they’re a revelation we can finally hear, after they spent nearly 40 years gathering dust in their producer’s garage. Today the Numero Group released Who’s Gonna Save the World, what should have been Father’s Children’s debut album. In my review in this week’s Washington City Paper, I write:
The most immediately striking songs are damaged and distraught in the vein of Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On. “Everbody’s Got a Problem” begins with a smother of prismatic keys before settling into a tense groove, over which singer Nick “Nizam” Smith puts the political into personal, and then messianic, terms. “Dirt and Grime” is swampy and menacing and skeletal; in a cracked but evocative tenor, Smith sings, “My dirty, filthy habitat/is where I got my habit at/of cheating, stealing, never feeling/pain of a brother, you dirty mother…”
There’s an end-times feel to the album’s taut first side, with its ruminative, almost prayerful moans and entropic guitar fuzz. The much jammier second half starts out on an apocalyptic note, too, with the pulpit-beating “Kohoutek”—named for the comet, associated with numerous doomsday prophesies, that would near the earth in 1973. But almost every time the band evokes dystopic themes, it quickly turns to Allah.
Who’s Gonna Save the World also has a psychedelic side, from its lush and sorrowful harmonies to an eccentric brand of Islam, inherited from the People’s Center’s manager Norman Hylton, that is rich in hippie idealism. “The world keeps rolling along, and I keep singing my song,” the band chants toward the end of the album, before erupting into an earnest, affecting coda of “Come on people ride with us on the universal train.” There’s also one hint of the glossy balladry that the band would later embrace. “Linda,” a lightly and smartly orchestrated tear-jerker that was later rerecorded for a single on D.C.’s Arrest label, is a worthwhile outlier.
Members of the band will be hanging out tonight at Marvin for a record release party, and there will DJ sets from some local cats—-including DJ Nitekrawler, aka Kevin Coombe, the local soul historian who helped recover the Who’s Gonna Save the World tapes. 8 to 12:30 p.m. Free.