Stroll down 18th Street in Adams Morgan early enough on a Sunday morning, and you’ll have to hopscotch through a rubble of pizza crusts and grease-sopped paper plates — evidence of the nightlife district’s wee-hours revelry and the $5 jumbo slices that followed.
But 40 years ago, Adams Morgan’s grime was far more grim:
My dirty, filthy habitat/ is where I got my habit at/ I’ll cheat and steal/ and never feel/ the pain of a brother,/ you dirty mother-”
Those are the lyrics to “Dirt and Grime,” a 1972 lament from Father’s Children, an obscure, seven-piece spiritual-funk group from Adams Morgan whose early recordings are just now seeing the light of day. “Who’s Gonna Save the World” is a collection of never-released tunes from a band struggling to make sense of the 1968 riots that devastated Washington.
It’s a stirring visit to the bad old days. “Everybody’s Got a Problem” highlights the eternal disparity between Washington’s opposing poles of power and poverty, layering greasy guitar riffs over snapping bongos. As the rhythm unravels, a voice asks, “You’re talking ’bout the Watergate? I’m so broke, I can’t pay attention.”
By 1979, Father’s Children had become pretty glossy: The group released a self-titled debut album brimming with starry-eyed disco cuts. You’d never predict that fate based on the mossy, psychedelic fare the band recorded in the early ’70s. “Kohoutek” matches mystical preaching with wah-wah soaked guitar squiggles. And the album’s title track finds the group tempering its weightiest groove with its airiest vocal harmonies, asking the unanswerable: “Who’s gonna save the world now?”
They cultivated their voices as the Dreams, a doo-wop group that formed at Western High School in the late ’60s and would eventually morph into Father’s Children once the band discovered Islam and added a few members. (Western High was transformed into the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in 1974.) Those vocal harmonies keep these bleak funk songs alive. It’s the sound of a band searching for hope in a Washington that must have felt hopeless.
Recommended tracks: “Dirt and Grime,” “Who’s Gonna Save the World”
Members of Father’s Children will be autographing copies of “Who’s Gonna Save the World” at a release party Tuesday at 8 p.m. at Marvin, 2007 14th St. N.W.