Saturday, May 16, 2015
Smoke Risin' J. Bridge Records 1976
This will likely be my top find of the year as I've been searching for this at a reasonable price for the past two years. Finding it for $1 at a Goodwill in Olathe, KS, that's perfect for my budget. I was searching through a pretty solid collection of beat up soul albums at the Goodwill flipping past some Earth, Wind & Fire I didn't need, some O'Jays had it been in better condition I wouldn't have minded owning, and some Donald Byrd LPs I did need despite a few scuffs. Then, this shows up, still in shrink and looking super-clean. There was a lady looking at the opposite side of the record bin and she looked up at me when I said out loud, "Oh man, I can't believe this is here!" I then had to explain myself somewhat embarrassed the rarity behind the record and that I've been trying to track this down for a couple years now. She didn't care much. She had a few Disney LPs and a Carperntars album in her stack, so naturally I said, "There's some really great Earth, Wind & Fire LPs in here if you need some."
This album is a throwback and when you put up to all things 1976, it's not surprising that the group didn't bust out of Kansas City. The LP is very rooted in the popular 60's and early 70's sound of Motown. It four male vocalists surrounded by lush strings, brass, and some modestly funky guitar, bass and drums. The primary songwriter was Elmer Overton (he also produced the record along with Les Mathews) and it's pretty clear Overton was heavily influenced by the likes of the Impressions and the Temptations. It's not disco enough for 1976 dance floors and wasn't funky enough to catch on to the live scenes.
However, despite the album being a few years too late, it sounds fucking great now. Overton's tunes recall the greatest bits of the Motown catalog and some of these tracks could burn down a Northern Soul dance floor and probably have. That kind of sentimental, uptempo, dance number that the likes of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson perfected for Motown, Overton gets close. Even the over-the-top, drenched in string ballads work for this guy, mostly because of the falsetto and the rest of the vocals in Smoke have the talent to carry it out and make it interesting.
Also, the amount of energy that went into this release is impressive. There's a complete string, horn and reed section along with your standard band backing. So 4 male vocalists and an impressive 16 member studio cast. Not to mention, a full production team. This was put out on J. Bridge Records, which only put out one other release, a single from the same band. So it's a basically a private press and the money that was put into this release is probably what killed any chance of the label continuing. But man, what a way to go out...dare I say in a blaze (get it, Smoke?).
I'm So Glad You Came Along