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Father’s Children - Who’s Gonna Save The World

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Artist: Father’s Children

Album: Who’s Gonna Save The World

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Sep. 7, 2011

What to make of a group like Washington, D.C.’s Father’s Children? They weren’t go-go, and they sure as heck weren’t harDCore. Re-listening now, it’s scary how different they were. Of course, were it not for soul-saving historians like Kevin Coombe (a.k.a. DJ Nitekrawler), we might never have known. Moreover, were it not for this brand new, high fidelity reissue from the saints at The Numero Group, Father’s Children would be as prodigal as Henry Rollins’ scruples, as lost altogether as Boehner’s Congress. Nineteen seventy two was an eternity ago, really, and plenty of great records have been buried by the legislation of time.

To wit, if you know Father’s Children at all it’s probably for their compromises made later in the decade. (Or, to borrow a term from MacKaye & Co., their “sell-out” stuff.) After years of both member and manager turnover, the funky, Islam-ified ensemble finally signed to Mercury Records, and manifested west for a cash grab with the eponymous decalogue, Father’s Children. Watered-down by Tinsel Town, that album’s torpid single, “Hollywood Dreaming” b/w “Shine On,” ultimately failed to chart in July of ‘79. Mercury soon relinquished rights, forcing the roughshod soul-Futuros to slouch back to Norman Hylton’s People’s Center in rough-hewn Adams Morgan. Abandoned and old enough, Father’s Children eventually divorced.

It wasn’t always like that, though. Beginning in September of 1972, at Silver Spring, Maryland’s D.B. Sound, the seven-piece ensemble ran down a voodoo equal parts jammed lament for the District’s earlier race riots and their newfangled, moon-unit take on Islam. Again, it’s scary just how bad-meaning-good they were. As so often happened, the Children never got the master tapes because their management didn’t pay the time tab. Those originals sat collecting dust on producer Robert Hosea Williams’ shelf until 2006, when Coombe gripped them tight, and with Numero’s blessing proper, raised them from perdition. Hence, we finally have the definitive question come unto the Children.

But in northwest D.C., especially in the early ‘70s, that question was hardly rhetorical. As per Sly Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, the most convincing rhythms here are the most urgent ones. Lead-off cut “Everybody’s Got a Problem,” written and wraught by Nizam Smith, looks not at Nixon’s White House, but instead the silent majority Tricky Dick had resigned to either side of Pennsylvania Avenue: “Oh man, you talking about the Watergate, man? Man, I’m so broke, I can’t even pay attention.”

“Dirt and Grime” is a skeletal study, almost menacing by comparison. In a strained but palpable tenor, Smith admonishes his AdMo neighborhood. “My dirty, filthy habitat is where I got my habit at,” says he. Apropos, Wali Woods’ high-pass guitar adds some extra brittle filth atop. Meanwhile, “Linda” -- the lone, legit love song of the lot -- succeeds in spite of Williams’ 101 Strings schmaltz. Re-recorded as a later one-off for D.C. Valentine’s D.C. boutique Arrest, the original suburban reading sparkles still.

In retrospect, Father’s Children’s Islam never was as hard-lined as Elijah Muhammad’s Nation. Thus, their own curious eschatology was hardly dogma ‘n’ brimstone. Take side two’s opener “Kohoutec,” for instance. Kohoutek, the doomsday comet 150,000 years late even in late ‘72, had been anticipated in song by everyone from Sun Ra to Kraftwerk to Journey. Swaddled in warm, Red Line reverb here, the Children aren’t so much waiting idly for some cosmic Godot as they are bustin’ loose during His interregnum. But just like that, its glorious noise of wind, brass and percussion comes to a psychedelic halt; it seems their “Kohoutec” was our Hale-Bopp. Undeterred, the shimmering harmonies of “In Shallah” follows. Arabic for “god willing,” it’s the weakest link only because its unfettered optimism sounds a bit like the airport Krishna’s proselytizings. That said, it’s not a particularly bad-meaning-bad tune.

Clocking in at just under eight minutes, “Father’s Children” is probably the best, most representative Father’s Children track recollected. It simultaneously anticipates, and then obliterates, D.C.’s coming go-go sound. Here, the Children dial down the Arabic rhetoric and summon forth a pure groove clinic. Nearly every member of the flock gets a featured workout, with Wood’s deft wah-wah leading the charge of his brigade’s light. Were this track made available on wax in 1972, methinks the entirety of rap and hip-hop would have sounded a lot different. Yes, the breaks simply are that infectious, the beats just too obvious not to sample. In fact, it’s only a matter of time now before some enterprising crate-digger mashes the funk out of this one.

By Logan K. Young

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