Family Tree: Loving roots, confronting biases

Let me be up front about my biases:

  1. I will always prefer an album that synthesizes rather than sprawls
  2. I will always prefer an album with subtle and trained production

In terms of Electric Light Orchestra, I will take Discovery over Out of the Blue.

In terms of Miles Davis, I will take Kind of Blue over Bitches Brew.

In terms of Sol Seed, I will take The Spark over Family Tree.

There’s no metaphor here. There’s no subtle writing. Because that’s how I felt with Family Tree at first.

And I’m not criticizing the songwriting, mind you, (well the album can grow to bore me—but all things in due time), it’s the lyric writing that bothers me. Thankfully, the Sol Seeders only mosey on over to greener musical pastures with each studio offering. And Family Tree moves emphatically from Grown Deep.

Just listen to the production on the vocals.

Benny Pezzano’s voice just hums and vibrates with the music. Sorenson hips high where Guasco hops low.

And Lennon levels up.

From “Family Tree” to “The Balance,” his voice is a revelation. I don’t know how the hell he managed to transform his voice to that of a rastaman—but it’s so welcome. He funks on “Fresh Squeezed,” jokes on “Roach in the Water,” sizzles on “Madre Tierra,” spits on “Ego Balloon” and just straight kills me on “Waking Up.

Lennon’s voice does not belie unequal parts, rather, his voice is just the roar of the engine. When it goes, you know the rest of the car is too.

Lennon’s voice brings Sol Seed’s recipe to life, adding another layer to this reggae-infused onion when Michael Sorenson makes it bloom with some spice, becoming part-drummer, part-DJ.

The mix between his drumming and DJing is on point and it only improves in a live environment. It’s amazing.

The band sounds gracious yet geared from the get-go, crafting a band anthem in “Family Tree” replete with reggaetón, record scratches and some swaggering horns. This is the band’s “Bad Company,” a title track resonating with more happiness and horns than Bad Company.

For real though, those horns carry not only the song, but fill the album nicely. The band allows for the different horn features to add a Latin flavor which works with their reggae style just as well as the hip-hop works with their reggae style.

But I’m not convinced they can juggle all three at the same time. Because when they do, something else suffers: the lyrics.

Sometimes they sound pretentious rather than gracious (“Family Tree”) and other times they talk past one another (“Mind to the World,” “Don’t Tell I”). It’s telling the number of elements they add—playing with fire can be fun, but juggling fire? That’s a different game altogether.

Go too fast and it can cause tracks to flame out. Go too long and it can fray the edges of the album, fatiguing the ears of the listener.

By album’s end, that fatigue creeps in as the luster Family Tree once possessed begins to disappear. By “The Journey” and “The Balance,” the album just needs to *Mortal Kombat voice* finish it.

A depressing thought when the former introduces Lewis’ vocals to the fold and the latter is as sweet as an album closer as one needs. But they suffer when the album’s pacing slogs from a sprint to a marathon.

Sol Seed should have split the album in two, exploring the Latin horns on one and the urban groove on the other. Instead, we have Family Tree. Yet just like any person’s family tree, sometimes looking past the warts is a necessity to enjoy the fruit.

Quick impressions: A sprawling and sometimes fatiguing album, Sol Seed’s family tree is a nonetheless effective showcase of what musical influences makes the band tick. Now if only they could synthesize and refine further…

Producers: Sol Seed

Track list:

  1. “Trunk”
  2. “Family Tree” (feat. Connah Jay)
  3. “Rags to Wisdom” (feat. Matthew “Mookie” Tierney)
  4. “Fresh Squeezed” (feat. Graeme Pletscher)
  5. “Roach in the Water”
  6. “Madre Tierra” (feat. Frankie Hernandez)
  7. “Ego Balloon” (feat. Dusty Fuller)
  8. “Solutions”
  9. “Green Collar Life”
  10. “Waking Up”
  11. “Don’t Tell I”
  12. “Mind to the World”
  13. “Waterspout”
  14. “The Journey”
  15. “The Balance”