[Review] Spirit: The Family That Plays Together (1968)

Randy California emerges as a second songwriter on the band’s scintillating second album.

Kronomyth 2.0: A game that two can play.

Spirit’s second album is more of the same only moreso, with Randy California now splitting songwriting duties with Jay Ferguson, who wrote nearly all of the first album. The Family That Plays Together plainly benefits from a second creative source of power. Their psychedelic sound was ahead of its time and points forward to progressive rock, particularly in California’s electric guitar. The album is otherwise notable for containing their biggest hit, the soulful I Got a Line on You.

It remains a mystery to me why Spirit didn’t achieve the popularity of bands like The Doors, Traffic, Jefferson Airplane and Cream. Maybe it’s because Spirit followed their own muse. I mean, you’d have to go digging into Three Man Army’s “My Yiddishe Mama” to find another rock group that dared to write a song like Jewish (based on the hymn, “Hine ma tov”). Elsewhere, Spirit invites comparison to John Cale (Darlin’ If), Jethro Tull (Drunkard), Cream (Aren’t You Glad) and Steppenwolf (It’s All the Same) without losing their own identity.

Again produced by Lou Adler with arrangements from Marty Paich, The Family That Plays Together feels like both a continuation and an expansion of their first album, Spirit. A few of the ideas are undercooked and the rhythm section is criminally undermiked, but otherwise it’s a musically impressive album as late sixties psychedelia goes. The flute is an especially nice touch; I would’ve liked to know who played it.

The contrast between California and Ferguson adds an extra dynamic to their music. Ferguson’s character studies (Silky Sam, Poor Richard, “Drunkard”) and California’s Cream-colored compositions create a musical kaleidoscope. There really isn’t a bad song on the album. She Smiles (which would have been my choice for the second single), the dreamy It Shall Be and (naturally) Dream Within a Dream and the jazzy It’s All the Same are all different and all good. It makes you wonder what Spirit will come up with next…

Original elpee version

A1. I Got a Line on You (Randy California) (2:39)
A2. It Shall Be (Randy California/John Locke) (3:24)
A3. Poor Richard (Jay Ferguson) (2:31)
A4. Silky Sam (Jay Ferguson) (4:57)
A5. Drunkard (Jay Ferguson) (2:27)
A6. Darlin If (Randy California) (2:27)
B1. It’s All the Same (Randy California/Ed Cassidy) (4:41)
B2. Jewish (Randy California) (3:23)
B3. Dream Within a Dream (Jay Ferguson) (3:13)
B4. She Smiles (Jay Ferguson) (2:30)
B5. Aren’t You Glad (Jay Ferguson) (5:25)

CD reissue bonus tracks
12. Fog (2:24)
13. So Little to Say (2:58)
14. Mellow Fellow (3:48)
15. Now or Anywhere (4:21)
16. Space Chile (6:26)

Original 8-track version
A1. I Got a Line on You
A2. It’s All the Same
A3. Jewish (part 1)
B1. Jewish (conclusion)
B2. She Smiles
B3. Drunkard
B4. Dream Within a Dream
C1. It Shall Be
C2. Poor Richard
C3. Silky Sam
D1. Darlin’ If
D2. Aren’t You Glad

The Players

Mark Christopher Andes (bass, backing vocals), Randy California (lead guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, bass), Ed “Cass” Cassidy (drums, percussion), Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), John Locke (keyboards) with Marshall Blonstein (additional dialogue), Marty Paich (string and horn arrangements). Produced by Lou Adler; engineered by Eric Wienbang, Armin Steiner.

The Pictures

Art direction by Tom Wilkes. Photography by Guy Webster.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, 4-track and 8-track in December 1968 in the US (Ode, Z12/Z14/Z18 44014) and in 1969 in the UK (CBS, S 63523) and Italy (CBS, 40 S 63523). US elpee features gatefold cover. Reached #22 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in the US (Epic, KE-31461). Re-charted to #189 on the US charts.
  2. Re-packaged with Feedback on 2-for-1 2LP in the US (Epic, BG 33761) with gatefold cover.
  3. Re-issued on elpee in the US (Epic, E 31461).
  4. Re-issued on elpee in 1986 in the UK (Edsel, XED 162).
  5. Re-released on expanded, 20-bit remastered compact disc in 1996 in the US (Epic, EK 65001) with 5 bonus tracks.
  6. Re-issued on expanded, remastered hybrid super audio compact disc in 2017 in Austria (Audio Fidelity, AFZ 260) with 5 bonus tracks.

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