Sweet Smoke: How Sweet It Is (Crazy Cajun, 1978)

Peep the picture of these guys – they look like a bunch of reject extras from an episode of “Welcome Back, Kotter”, including the token brother they have in the mix. I wasn’t sure what to expect from them but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this Texas group mixed it up between some decent, funky rock tunes like “Lady Luck” but the real find is all on the B-side where these guys pull off a bunch of R&B covers including a rocked out version of the Ohio Players’ “Fire”, Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman”…which I like even though it’s nowhere near as soulful as Wonder’s original plus a fun flip on Billy Preston’s “Nothin’ From Nothin'”. Most outstanding is their slick, breakbeat laden “I Can Hear You Callin'” (I’m assuming this is a cover of the Three Dog Night song but I don’t remember what the OG sounds like). For beat heads, it opens with a nice break and brings back two breakdowns later in the song. Rock on white dudes, rock on.

A.B. Skhy: S/T (MGM, 1969)

More funky white dudes in the mix. This S.F. group was dropping that blues-rock science on this album. A lot of it is fairly standard – it’s no surprise that they were contemporaries of the Grateful Dead (their keyboardist Howard Wales did a lot of collabo work with Jerry Garcia). There’s some decent summer of love psychedelics, especially on “Of All Sad Words” but the hotness is “Came Back”, the only song off this album to make any noise. It’s a straight up mod-rock blaster, fierce as hell when it kicks off and Wales wails (get it?) on the organ all over this muthasucka. It slides more into a groove mid-way through but then brings back the heat at the end. More wicked than the Witch of the West.

Harold Johnson: Everybody Loves a Winner (Revue, 1968)

This slick little acoustic soul-jazz album comes from the hands of a 18 year old pianist already on his second album. There’s a lot to like on this album – he has really strong arrangements and a great blend of traditional jazz instrumentation with Afro-Latin elements. Parts of the album, especially cuts like “Be Quiet Man” and the super-smooth “Afro Freak” sound like they could have been recorded five years earlier though the inclusion of a cool cover of the Impressions’ “We’re a Winner” helps pin down the date. The latter is the only outwardly funky song in the mix though most of the other songs are just fantastic examples of Latin-influenced straight-ahead.

Freddie Roulette: Sweet Funky Steel (Janus 1973)

Enticing an idea as a funky steel guitar album may be, only one and a half songs really lived up to the promise. Harvey Mandel produces this album which is a mesh of rock and blues instrumentals. Roullette’s steel guitar sound is fetching enough – I like its signature whine – but most of the arrangements don’t really live up to the same of “sweet” or “funky”. The only one that does is “Million Dollar Feeling” which is a cook, smoky groover and benefits immensely from Victor Conte’s bass work. “Alleluia” is an uptempo pacer – not bad, but it’s a tad too chaotic. “Cause and Effect” could have been hot too but Don “Sugarcane” Harris’ violin ruins the song in my opinion.