Woodworm 1982 / Talking Elephant 2021
One of the essential English records of rustic delights is given a new shine and expanded to embrace the spirit of unity.
Once upon a time concept folk-rock albums were thin on the ground – it seemed like too highbrow an idea for such a down-to-earth genre – and then Steve Ashley came along with his “Family Show” and his Fairporter friends who helped this artist perform original songs on various stages back in 1979 and went on to record the material which would gather dust for three years before getting let in the open. The longplay proved to be as timeless as the concept in question: a series of tales about a ménage often told from a first-person point of view, the narrative highlighting funny and poignant angles of a household life despite the fact that everything here usually comes from a single, albeit unique, pair of pipes.
Full of warm glow, rich on kitchen-sink detail and spiced up with satire, numbers like opener “Family Love” or the out-take “Somewhere In A Song” are incredibly endearing, while the pieces delivered from the particular perspective of different characters – including The Dog’s “Lost And Found” where Ashley’s a cappella sounds so humorously ruff it’s impossible not to roll on the floor laughing – run the rather spectacular gamut. They move, facilitated by Steve’s multifaceted voice, from tender, rhymes-flaunting “Born To Rule” that’s caressed by Dave Pegg’s fretless bass, to the nostalgic pastiche of “I’m A Radio” that’s smeared with harmonica and vocal harmonies, and to “The Rough With The Smooth” that perfectly conveys the mood of an elderly before sharp riffs emerge to edge the flow towards the story’s finale.
There’s infectious communal singing in the handclaps-helped “Pancake Day” and the immense emotional depth in “Love Is All We Live For” which is given a bouzouki filigree. However, if Steve’s acoustic strum on “Feelin’ Lazy” will get fleshed out once Simon Nicol and Bruce Rowland (whose memory the 2016 unaccompanied bonus “For Bruce” is dedicated to) join in and bring forth a punchy groove, “Little Bit Of Love” should offer an invigorating electric dance, Chris Leslie’s fiddle adding to the serious swirl of this adult-themed cut. The result of it all can’t be less than adorable and impressive: ripe for rediscovery, “Family Album” has the makings of a masterpiece – no matter how the platter’s deceptive simplicity may get in the way of the songs’ aggregated greatness.