The Relatives Want to Save Your Psychedelic Soul
A swirl of gritty, psychedelic guitars and screaming fans with their hands raised to the heavens isn't what you typically think of when you hear gospel. But Dallas-bred group the Relatives have no concern about your or anyone else's preconceived notions of the Lord's music. They weren't concerned in the early '70s either when the band crossbred the funk rhythms of the times with psychedelia and injected a heavy dose of soul --as in the biblical type, into their music.
The Electric Word
They played shows around town with some of the most popular gospel groups of the time. The band has shared the stage with the Staple Singers and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, which was akin to Black Sabbath sharing the stage with Simon and Garfunkel. Both are fantastic in their own right, but the Relatives never fit with such ilk and they struggled to find their place.
After a couple of self-released 45s and limited traction outside of North Texas, the group hung up their instruments as the '80s rolled around. Too far out for parishioners and just maybe too far beyond for the rest of the world at the time.
When Austin-based Heavy Light Records released their complete output as the compilation Don't Let Me Fall in 2009, the Relatives found their musical flame reignited and reformed the group after some coaxing. "I didn't want to get back into it because I went through so much of a struggle before as a young musician," says a gruff-voiced, 75-year-old Relatives founder, Reverend Gean West from his God's Anointed Church in Dallas. A spell of sold out shows and sweaty festival performances at Austin City Limits and Bonnaroo later, the Relatives converted people that came to see Florence + the Machine or Iggy & the Stooges into bona fide fans.
This is perhaps the most impressive feat of the group; they transcend the sounds of gospel and garner listeners that otherwise wouldn't find themselves openly endorsing the lord's music. They cross this threshold by circumventing the standard vanilla themes of gospel. The Relatives croon about topics that touch everyone today, not just the faith seekers. Love and war, the pains of addiction and racial inequality all find their way into the group's work. "I believe it's a sound that goes beyond a certain religion," says the Reverend. "We were aware of this when we came up with this sort of sound. We wanted to be able to reach everybody, not just small group of people."