The Sons of Champlin

The Best of the Sons of Champlin

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The Sons of Champlin released three albums on Capitol Records between 1969 and 1971 (Loosen Up Naturally, The Sons, and Follow Your Heart), none of which was a commercial hit for various reasons, but not for lack of musical quality. This 78-minute CD makes a reasonable selection of the highlights from those LPs, demonstrating that at their best, the Sons were a collection of talented musicians who packed their songs full of good solos that grew out of complicated arrangements. Although they were a part of the psychedelic San Francisco scene of the time, their music never quite fit the mold, leaning much more toward jazz and R&B than, say, the Grateful Dead. The Sons played instruments including saxophones and a vibraphone, not otherwise typical of the San Francisco Sound, and they were less interested in songs than in creating platforms for soloing. They might start a tune like "Love of a Woman" as a gentle, romantic ballad with an acoustic guitar, but midway through that would suddenly give way to a jazzy instrumental section in a different time signature, return to the ballad, then again go off into jazz. The band was, in a sense, too much of too many good things, all being shoehorned into the same track. Bill Champlin was a gritty, soulful vocalist who wrote thoughtful lyrics, but he also took some busy organ solos and joined Geoffrey Palmer and Tim Caine in the horn section; Terry Haggerty might have ranked with John Cipollina, Jorma Kaukonen, and Jerry Garcia among Bay Area guitar heroes, if he could have gotten more solo space, even if he made the best of what he got; Palmer, when he put down his horn, could take up mallets and play a vibraphone solo. Compilers Champlin and Brad Benedict have made the good decision to focus on the ambitious first album, Loosen Up Naturally, using seven of its 11 tracks. They should have used one more, "Rooftop," one of Champlin's better compositions. Otherwise, the album is an excellent condensation of the Sons of Champlin.

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