The Relatives ‘The Electric Word’ (Yep Roc) 4/5

If the concept of gospel-funk is a hard one to grasp, then the BGP compilation of inspirational music with funky flavours of a couple of years ago ‘The Gospel Truth’ introduced the sounds to a wider audience and singers such as Shirley Caesar and Rance Allen have regularly fused their devotional message with secular instrumantation. Which is where North Texan group the Relatives come into the equation. A little known group outside their native state, the group was founded in 1970s and began releasing a series of collectable 45s which eventually saw the light of day on CD in 2009 with the anthology ‘Don’t let me fall’. The group had in fact disbanded by 1980, but the interest generated by the compilation encouraged the leader Reverend Gean West to reunite the group, first of all touring together, and now releasing this brand new album. There are hints of the Isley Brothers circa 1975 in the use of guitar and the Staples Singers and deep soulster O.V. Wright in the mellifluous harmonies that emanate both collectively and individually. Stylistically the album is quite varied, ranging from uptempo songs with falsetto and baritone vocals that Earth,Wind and Fire made such good use of in their soul and funk numbers to blues-inspired ballads and acapellas that are immediately pleasing on the ear. A standout track is the beautiful love ballad ‘Your love is real’ where the tight unison harmonies and raspy lead vocals blend effortlessly while ‘Revelations’ finds the group heading back into Temptations psychadelic era. Funk permeates a tribute of sorts to James Brown on ‘Say it loud (it is coming up again’) which is directly inspired from Brown’s legendary black pride anthem and includes the Relatives own take on the famous guitar riff. However, given their Texan roots the blues are never too far away and this arrives with biting social comment on another album highlight, ‘What’s wrong with America’. An all-too brief acapella ‘Trouble in my way’ demonstrates their more traditional gospel credentials. All in all a new take on the gospel format that is anything but preachy and welcomes allcomers to the musical pulpit. Tim Stenhouse