WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE… OH WAIT, YES WE ARE

Chocolate Snow: Inflation
From Eccentric Soul: Smart’s Palace (Numero 2009)

After awhile, it’s hard to know what exactly to write about a Numero release. They’re so ridiculously consistent with their quality of full-length releases – now at 26 total (Note: this is #27; #25, a book/2LP release, is on hold temporarily) and this doesn’t even factor in their Asterisk and Numerophon subsidiaries – it’s really hard to nitpick.

Their latest Eccentric Soul series release, Smart’s Palace, focuses on the Wichita, Kansas, soul scene from the 60s through the mid-70s. The Smarts, who left town for California and came back, get top billing on this album, due to their varied roles in the music scene of Wichita. They played instruments, they played/wrote originals and covers, and owned a restaurant/club.

Two songs from the compilation have previously been featured on the Jazzman label’s Midwest Funk compilation from 2004 (and has since issued in the US by Now Again): “Tell Her” by Fred Williams and The Jewels Band and “A Day In The Life” by Chocolate Snow, led by the Neal family. The latter is a complete revamping , as popularized by Wes Montgomery, of the Beatles tune. Add a synth to the mix, and you’d have a tune that rivals 9th Creation’s “Bubble Gum” with its groove.

Accompanying the instrumental of the Chocolate Snow track is its vocal treatment, previously only available on a test press, entitled “Inflation,” although the lyrics were completely changed from the Fab Four version. This go-round, “A Day In The Life,” featuring C.C. Neal rapping (in the early 70s sense of the word) hard times and job hunting, features a subject that may hit close to home for many in today’s economy.

Different songs have different reasons of why they’re enjoyable. L.T. And The Soulful Dynamics’ first cut on the album has a nifty bass riff while “Barefoot Philly” by the Smart Brothers has a funky sax including a strange popping trick John Smart did with his reed to imitate a drum.

Other songs fall flat such as Hard Road’s “If You Really Love Me.” The second offering from Fred Williams and The Jewels “The Dance Got Old,” a song that mentions popular dances of the day and how they got, well, old is not a particularly original spin on the concept as it even tries to riff on the Tighten Up. If the dance got old, then why play a spin on it? Chocolate Snow’s Christmas tune, a novelty song, is the most uninspiring song on the set. With lyrics like “Let me be your Christmas card,” I can see why they might be left out in the cold for Christmas.

In summary, while it’s not the most riveting compilation that Numero has brought forth, as some spots shine brighter than others on the disc, it’s certainly not a disappointment either. By the end of the Smart’s Palace, you’ll have clicked your red heels, taken off your headphones, and be back home, all while enjoying the ride you’ve been on – even if the road was a bit bumpy. So ease on down the road; after all, it’s got heart, Smarts, and isn’t afraid to fail.

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