Super Sol Nova, Volume 1

Title: Super Sol Nova, Volume 1
Artist: The Family Stand
Label: Go Entertainment / Rounder Europe
Catalog No.: Go 70323
Release date: January 2008

After a nine-year hiatus following the 1998 publication of The Family Stand’s last album, Connected, Sandra St. Victor, Peter Lord, and V. Jeffrey Smith reunited to record and release Super Sol Nova, Volume 1.  The release of the album and the group’s recent concert tour is a reaction, at least in part, to the false arrest of Donovan Drayton, son of Family Stand guitarist Ronny Drayton, by the NYPD in November 2007 for premeditated murder and robbery.  According to The Family Stand website, the group members are trying to fight Donovan’s indictment for second degree murder by “bonding together to secure legal funds for this long and tedious process via concerts and outreach to the community” (a benefit concert with Nona Hendryx is planned for October).  Although Donovan’s story doesn’t seem to play a role in the album itself, it is serving as the inspiration for the group’s continued activity.

Super Sol Nova is a mixed bag in terms of sound and quality.  Many of the songs draw upon the rock aesthetics established by earlier songs like “In the Midst of Revolution” and “Plantation Radio” from Moon in Scorpio rather than from the mellower jazz and R&B sounds that characterized Connected and Chain.  These tend to be the stronger pieces on the album and I’ll touch on several of them in a moment.

A number of the other songs on the album range from sweet, if somewhat banal, love ballads to sonic experiments gone awry.  “009,” for instance, opens with a spoken spoof by Viki Wickham of the typical enemy agent monologue you would expect in a James Bond film.  The song itself imitates the 007 soundtracks intermixed with rap solos.  The style shifts are so frequent and jarring that the work continually feels like it’s on the verge of a train wreck.  Another song that seems to have just passed the brink of disaster is “I Thought I Had,” a break-up song backed by a happy sounding string section with oddly placed attacks on a tympani and bell set.  “Slipped,” another break-up song consisting primarily of voice and acoustic guitar, has an equally random bell part that is out of synch with the rest of the music.  Maybe this is the band’s way of sonically representing relationships gone sour, but it feels more like bad multi-tracking.

Fortunately, there are twelve other tracks on Super Sol Nova.  The album’s title track mixes rock and soul with hip hop style vocals and a solo by Milk D.  The lyrics make an attack on corporatized rappers as fakers and posers.  Milk D. suggests that “more than a few MC’s need neck slaps” and claims that “every other motherfucking word is fuck” when they rap because of their lack of mic skills and their inability to deliver on stage.  In place of the boring sounds cranked out by the music industry, The Family Stand offers to feed the hungry hearts and minds of the masses with the explosion of their super sol nova.

“Super Sol Nova” transitions purposefully and seamlessly into “Everything Works Out,” but quickly drops the harder rock elements in favor of a looped sitar track and tabla-esque percussion, giving the song an Indian flavor.  The theme of the lyrics also shifts, switching from accusations of selling out to corporate puppeteers to reveling in the peace and love of discovering the God inside of you and being “who you wanna be.”

Other songs on the album are blatantly political.  “In the Name of What?” is a scathing critique of the actions and policies of the Bush administration, particularly the lies about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the betrayal of CIA agent Valerie Plume by Karl Rove, and the government’s failure to provide aid to the victims of Katrina.  Drawing on a musical style reminiscent of WAR, The Family Stand mixes in news clips and the sounds of gunfire and explosions throughout the song.

“Divided We Stand”-an obvious inversion of “united we stand, divided we fall”-is a bluesy criticism of Americans’ failure to overcome the divisions caused by party politics and religion. “Dangerous,” although not political per se, compares a new lover to the dangers of the Iraq war including snipers and landmines.  And if that’s not irreverent enough for you, you’ll probably find the line “It’s like a terrorist is roaming in my heart” deeply satisfying.

Other songs worth checking out on the album include “Getting Happy,” a song about new found love delivered as a duet between Sandra and Lord that mixes R&B with a looped viola line; “Highway,” a slow rock ballad about recovering from bad choices; “Blazin'” a big band style instrumental piece featuring Smith on soprano sax; “The Break Down,” an all around solid rock song featuring Corey Glover on background vocals and Mike Ciro and Clifford “Moonie” Pusey on guitar; and “Innizout,” a meld of brooding bass-driven rock with strings that warns of the danger of losing yourself while trying to climb the social ladder.

In case you’re curious about the “Volume One” in the title, there is no “Volume Two.”  The Family Stand explains on their website that this album is the first step of “the next journey. . . The Family Stand reborn letting loose it’s creative gases and sonic molecules so that it may form another and even more powerful creative life force to shine its vibrations throughout the universe.”

Although there is currently another project in the works, the tentative title is Definition as opposed to Super Sol Nova, Volume 2, and it will focus exclusively on “one” genre that band calls “Rock/Soul.”

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald