Eccentric Soul Smarts Palace
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Funky soul from Witchita, Kansas -- an unlikely locale, but home to some really great music -- courtesy of the Smart brothers, and their ultra-hip club! This wonderful entry in the Eccentric Soul series from Numero really brings that lost scene to life -- telling the tale of the brothers, their club, and some of the wickedly funky artists that graced their stage -- a host of obscure groups, singers, and instrumentalists who really made Kansas cook, back in the day! The groove here is plenty darn hard -- as raw as some of the best funky 45s you might find from points north, warmed up with occasional southern soul elements -- and always produced with rough-and-ready vibe that gets to the heart of the grit right away. The set comes with a beautiful 28 page booklet -- filled with vintage photos, in support of the Smart story, told by Dante Carfagna and Rob Sevier -- but even without this added feature, the CD itself would be wonderful -- essential listening for fans of all things funky!
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Smart's Palace was a club in Wichita owned and operated by the Smart family, many of whom where musicians themselves. You can hear evidence of that family's talent on this CD, many of the tracks featuring members of the Smart family. But the Smart family were not the only talented ones in town. This CD also has several songs from another musical bunch of siblings in the Neal family who also were prominent in what's dubbed "the inner circle" of Wichita soul music scene. Cornelius Neal, a singer known as "Baby Neal" sang with the Smart Brothers, and then later, he and other members of the Neal family formed the band Chocolate Snow, a very tight outfit that has 4 songs on this CD, one of which is an inventive instrumental version of the Beatles' classic "A Day in the Life." The liner notes tell us that Chocolate Snow "took its cues from Santana, Earth Wind & Fire, and Sly and the Family Stone ... combining funk, rock, outrageous outfits, and various ethnicities into one band." That's a pretty accurate description of their sound. By this time, "Baby Neal" was now going by the nickname of C.C., adding his melodic voice to catchy songs such as "Let Me Be Your Christmas Toy."
One of my favorite artists on here is Fred Williams, a singer with a really distinctive, gritty voice. The two tracks by him on this collection are both great, leaving me wanting to hear more. Another one of the better tunes on this CD was recorded by a local DJ, Tim Jacob, whose "Mercy Baby" oozes with sweet, funky soul.
Once again, the Numero Group label has done an outstanding job in digging up some truly terrific soul rarities, and this time from Wichita of all places! Just goes to show you that you can find great funk and soul in any part of the country. And, as always, you get a deluxe booklet with this CD, packed with photos and a history of these artists and the recordings. The last track on this CD pretty much sums up the music within: "It's Like Heaven."