My first hit of–sorry, my first listen to The Smokering’s laid-back-cool trip-hop offering, Mellow Majestic, immediately put me in mind of the great lounge-based stuff flowing out of the Waveform label in the last decade. Which was good enough on its own, but when the ride began to show signs of being under the influence of late-80s jazz-inspired dance/rap acts like US3, DNA and Digable Planets, and had the smooth and smoky aftertaste of pure 70’s funk, I settled right in.
Let me quickly get the few negatives out of the way. The Smokering’s style leads to a fair degree of sonic similarity as you truck on through the tracks, which makes the first half of the CD feel fresher than the rest. The duo have also relied a little too heavily on a string sample that packs some serious Barry White backing-band cred. There’s simply too much of it, and it gets old.
That being said, I could listen to “B-Girl” on loop and be happy. A thick, righteous bassline sidles up to a slick backbeat and some electric piano that feels borrowed straight from a Return to Forever album. Soundbursts drop in to flavor the mix. Hold this one in before you let go. It’s just sweet. The following track, “Internal Affairs,” is sexy but tough, a sidewalk stride that later picks up some additional cool from a muted trumpet. And “Nightcap” is clearly the hidden-away theme song from the coolest 70s cop show that never was.
Too much repetition takes a fair amount away from Mellow Majestic, but The Smokering, aka Ed Vichnick and Jason D. Kuhar, clearly know their way around this music. They may wear their influential hearts on their sleeves, and spend a lot of time pointing them out to you, but the vibe is there and the cool is there, and I feel like more diverse stuff will be forthcoming. Mellow Majestic will be in my shuffle queue for a while, where the similarities won’t matter as much. Right now, I’m going to listen to “B-Girl” just one more time.
Available from Global Vortex Records.