By this point every record geek worth their acid-free, white paper sleeves knows the deal when it comes to the Chicago-based Numero Group label. Simply put, the imprint finds the obscure of the obscure, lovingly repackages it and releases it to the masses. The Numero Group traffics in things so rarified that the average person couldn’t even think about requesting it. Since 2003, it’s been a steady stream of unearthing music most never new existed. Yet, this time they seem to have gone in a meta–Beyond the Looking Glass direction for their latest release, Who’s Gonna Save the World by the DC-based Father’s Children.
If you were aware of Father’s Children, it would be from their only release, a self-titled album from 1979. Released by Mercury Records and produced by Wayne Henderson, the record went double aluminum, or in other words, nowhere. In the years following, the Children’s blend of funk, disco and soul gained quite a cult following, but finding a copy of Moses’ report cards would have been an easier task. The record regularly goes for up to $200 among cratediggers, so the idea that there could be an unreleased album was enticing, but not very likely. After all, so many bands get the one chance to shine, and once that fails, most go back to their regular lives. There was simply no reason to think that Father’s Children would have another record. Yet, as these things often happen, a 45 on the DC label Arrest began making the collector circuits with a song (“Intellect”) that clearly preceded the 1979 sounds. And in that half Indiana Jones–like, half crazy luck way, Numero did it again, rescuing the master tapes of the 1973 album from the producer’s garage. Apparently, the band had run out of money to pay for the recordings, so he kept them. Now, 38 years after those sessions, Who’s Gonna Save the World is unleashed upon the world.
Those who’ve managed to hear the Father’s Children album via YouTube or their single “Hollywood Dreaming” probably feel like they have an idea of what the band is about. Those notions should be thrown out immediately. While one would imagine that the 1979 version of Father’s Children featured pressed suits and immaculately groomed afros, the ’73 version was a lot grittier. DC was in the heat of the Watergate scandal, and life in general was tougher. The promises of the ’60s were slowly unraveling, and Who’s Gonna Save the World is a reflection of that reality. There are tough, world-weary songs like “Dirt and Grime” and “Everyone’s Got a Problem,” where a band member declares, “You talkin’ about Watergate. I’m so broke I can’t pay attention." But it’s not all grim, steely-eyed reporting. The record is shot through with some of the the optimism and energy still leftover from the previous decade, but balanced with the realities of the time. When the band call for both a spiritual and social call to arms in songs like “Kohoutek,” you can tell that they mean every syllable.
Musically, the difference between the ’79 and ’73 versions of the band is nearly as drastic as that between Kool & the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie” and “Celebration.” While there is an R&B foundation to Who’s Gonna, there’s also healthy touches of psychedelic rock to keep the listener on his toes. Such embellishments never sound forced and the contrast between some of the soaring vocal arrangements and the gnarly guitar workouts is like sweet and sour. It’s like where Sly & the Family Stone would have gone had the drugs not derailed their train, and you could view this as the more hopeful spiritual brother to There’s A Riot Going On. The most amazing thing about Who’s Gonna Save the World is that even though it’s very much a product of its time, there’s something transcendent about it that makes it still sound remarkably fresh. Hats off to Numero and to Father’s Children, who will hopefully get their overdue day in the sun.
Dorian S. Ham