Various Artists
Eccentric Soul: Smart’s Palace
Numero Group

It seems like there’s never too much time passed before we are once again gifted with another release from the Numero Group, whose collections of music lost to the sands of time are always revealing. Most noticeable among the label’s releases are those in their Eccentric Soul series, which has more often than not unearthed lively musical communities in the most unlikeliest of places.

Witchita, Kansas is perhaps the most surprising locale yet to be immortalized by the curatorial label. While I’m sure it was a shock to many that the first album in the series (and the first release for the label at large) celebrated an imprint from Columbus, Ohio, surely Kansas seems too whitebread for soul music, too remote for anything so urbane.

But the Numero Group has done it once again with Smart’s Palace, a compilation taking its name from a club and restaurant that served as a focal point for Wichita’s small and communal scene. The venue was run by the Smart family, whose boys would comprise the house band. The same family would also eventually run a music store, and Dick, one of the oldest of the brothers, would find himself running a record label, Solo, as well.

During the late ’60s and early ’70s, the Smarts wound up recording under a number of guises, both in Kansas and California, and with a variety of singers. Every one of the 18 tracks collected here somehow involves the family in one capacity or another. It is no overestimation to call the Smarts the nucleus of Wichita’s small soul scene, even though the majority of the cuts to be found on the album aren’t credited to anyone bearing the Smart name.

Like most records in the Eccentric Soul series, this one is comprised of songs that never made an impact nationally, and some which were never released to the public at all. In general, the Smarts seem to precipitate funk, a big band combination of funky horns and thick grooves. “I’ve Got a Funny Feeling,” credited to Baby Neal & the Smart Brothers, is an old-time R&B rave-up, replete with fake crowd noises. “Don’t Hate Let’s Communicate,” by Kenneth Carr with John Smart’s Band is rife with social commentary set over a simple beat and horn punctuation. “It’s Your Love,” by one of Solo’s signings, Theron and Darrell, is perhaps the highlight, a JB-like, chicken-scratch funk melding with crazed vocals.

At this point it seems routine to praise the work Numero is doing. But the label is truly providing a service. In a time when music has become mostly disposable, they are recovering gems that had already been tossed away and proving that great music can come from any time or place.
Stephen Slaybaugh