When Marcus Mumford and his multi-talented Sons hit the trifecta of artistic integrity, critical acclaim and mainstream success, a good many similarly inclined groups climbed on the stomp-and-chant Folk/Rock carousel and made a grab for the same brass ring. Some groups had developed along a parallel track, with similar influences and translations, others were clearly attempting to cash in by simply aping the formula, and a few brought an interesting new twist to the sonic concept. Family and Friends belong squarely in the latter category.
The Athens, Ga. collective has cooked up a potent brew on its two EPs to date, last year’s five-track Love You Mean It and the more recent six-track mini-epic, XOXO. Building on a foundation of anthemic Folk shantyism and gang shout-along vocals, Family and Friends spices its recipe with dashes of Pop melodicism and flourishes of Prog complexity, resulting in a sound that is appealingly familiar and yet identifiably unique. Although Family and Friends is a relatively large musical assemblage, the band’s eight members work as an exceptionally tight and effective unit (the band’s dual drummers perform standing up) and manage to create a full and elegant sound without overplaying or deliberately piling up the instrumentation for the sole sake of power or volume. Family and Friends prefers to concentrate on honest and passionate emotion, all in the service of well-constructed songs delivered by a band devoted to having the best possible time for and with its fans.
At a certain level, Family and Friends’ swift regional rise isn’t a huge surprise. The band has worked hard during its brief tenure, and it is operating in a scene that has spawned and supported the likes of the B-52s, R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, Pylon and any number of lesser known but equally quirky and beloved outfits. It’s not particularly hard to see how Family and Friends came up with its name; fans, blood relatives and inner circle compatriots are all embraced with equal affection and enthusiasm. This ain’t no phone plan, this is one of the best bands in the land.