Smokin' features Marcus Singletary backed by Ekoostik Hookah bassist Cliff Starbuck and ex-Doobie Brothers drummer Chet McCracken. The disc was mixed by Ross Pallone (Prince, John Tesh, the Jacksons.) Regarding its production, Singletary says, "I spent a full year on it, and it was a grueling process, as I built and shaped each phrase of every instrument from a ton of recorded studio takes and learned the ins and outs of Pro Tools along the way while experimenting on some very cool instruments."
Singletary appears on vocals, guitars, keyboards, and theremin, and his organ solo in "Can It Be Real" defies the expected Jimi Hendrix-type guitar playing employed by the majority of musicians in breakdowns. A sitar in "Meditate" is influenced by Lolly Vegas of Redbone's 1975 hit Come and Get Your Love, and "Farmer"'s aforementioned theremin, utilized during the 6/4 bridge, adds a brutal edge to the anti-violence narrative.
Other cuts employ arcade-style music and references to Mt. Shasta ("You Could Be Lucky"), flutes that bear resemblance to rock during the Age of Aquarius ("Psychedelic People"), and a groove in "Get the Dance Gene" that recalls Terry Kath-era Chicago-a group at the height of fame at a time when many of Singletary's listeners were in their youth.
Singletary states that his target audience is, "30-55, since the music draws heavily upon classic rock influences," and one glance at today's classic rock concertgoer proves that his music fits in well with a group simultaneously inspired by other musicians performing within that genre.
Also shared with the audience are integrity, inspiration, and positive values-qualities fused with a highly educated perspective and formal musical training to provide listeners with a sound that is stamped by its energy, freshness, inspirational lyrics, and mature tone. It, ultimately, does not resemble much else out there.
Produced by Marcus Singletary
Marcus Singletary - Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Keyboards, Synth, Percussion, Vocals, Theremin on "Farmer."
Cliff Starbuck - Bass
Chet McCracken - Drums and Percussion
Ralph Parillo - Sax
John Lugo - Trombone
Cuco Lopez - Flute
Engineered by Erik Colvin
Mixing by Ross Pallone
Mastered by Anthony Cassucio
Putting aside the picture on the CD cover which gives the impression that Marcus Singletary is some sort of bandit on the run - and the rather dark music it suggests, once you delve into this rather short album the feeling is altogether lighter and more joyful than the image suggests. If your musical memory stretches back to the Seventies, then there's a good chance that you'll find something, if not rather a lot to enjoy on Singletary's Smokin', with everything from classic rock to disco, boogie to funk and jazz to pop making an appearance. As that list alludes to, the influences blur past thick and fast through the songs, but rather cleverly the end results manage to avoid sounding too close to any one band in particular.
Want some glam tinged classic rock? Then fire on "Can It Be Real" where Bolan is hinted at. Looking for something altogether more flower powery? Well "Meditate" floats by exactly as its title suggests. Both of these tracks also highlight the wonderful vocal performances and intricate arrangements that make Smokin' an interesting and rewarding journey, while the likes of the funked up and uber catchy "Get The Dance Gene" and the sweet melodious pop of "Farmer" have you humming their hook line for days on end, with the latter actually being the strongest song on offer here.
Across the whole album what really strikes you is the insistent beats and classy performances, with the horn section which includes flute, trombone, sax and trumpet adding greatly to the authenticity and scope of the music. Chet McCracken and Cliff Starbuck on drums and bass respectively have you heaving your ass around the room in the most unsightly of manners with the incisive and considered rhythms, which leaves Singletary to handle everything else, including guitars, keyboards, Theremin and vocals, as well as producing the album. He does all of these to great effect, with bright guitar work interacting beautifully with the brass, but allowed space to breathe thanks to an excellent, sympathetic production. The best example of how all the different areas are brought together comes in the shape of "Misty Morning" where the band really stretch out and let fly bouncing off each other and thriving on the energy they creates. Not everything works to the same level though, with "Psychedelic People" meandering for far too long before reaching the point and "Drop Of A Hat" requiring just an ounce more energy to make it as memorable as it could be, although the bright and breezy "You Could Be Lucky" closes the album out in fine, uplifting style.
Smokin' is quite a bold undertaking and any album that doesn't rely on an overly familiar sound for success these days is to be applauded. It may not all come off to the high standard of the best material presented here, but when it does Smokin' is an impressive beast and well worth investigating. -Steven Reid, Sea of Tranquility