In the early '70s, there were numerous obscure British folk-rock albums with an out of time quality treading in mysticism. Family Album is like those albums, yet even more out of time in a way, considering there were very few artists on either major or indie labels doing anything like this in 2004. You get the feeling you've stumbled on a musical play in a forest that's enacting some mythical tragedy or epic adventure, though there's no actual central plot or story tying the songs together. Vintage British folk-rock is the musical touchstone, as many of the songs feature similar kinds of folky melodies with an ancient haunted (and sometimes morbid) quality, sounding as if they've drifted into modern times by mistake, as well as fairly acoustic-based instrumentation. It's atmospheric, but not all that enchanting: the songs can be overly precious, with a tense melodrama to the vocals and melodies that sometimes makes you feel like vocalist Dawn McCarthy is wrestling with an invisible demon the audience can't see. McCarthy sings most of the material in a high though not exceptional voice that again recalls many British folk-rock sirens of yore, occasionally stepping aside for collaborator Nils Frykdahl to take lead vocals in a less effective rough growl. The menu of storytelling-like songs is certainly varied, and it's not all folk-rock, going into opera and eerie gospel on "Higher," theatrical music that sounds like a combination of Judy Collins and Grace Slick on "Carousel With Madonnas," Nick Cave-like angst on Frykdahl's "Rising Din," and new wave-ish dance rhythms on the cover of Brigitte Fontaine's "Eternal." It all adds to the weirdness of a record that's genuinely strange, even if the results don't seem to match its ambitions.
Family Album Review
by Richie Unterberger