Sly & The Family Stone had climbed the mountain, but by July 1974 they were beginning their descent. Drugs, not appearing for concerts, and tensions within the group formed the background for the recording of Small Talk. While the album had some credible material and ended up being a commercial success, the creativity of Stand and There’s A Riot Goin’ On
had unfortunately departed.
The group was now not alone in the funk field. Hundreds of acts had taken Sly’s legacy and run with it. Artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, George Clinton, Graham Central Station, Mandrill, and even the godfather of soul, James Brown, had superseded Sly’s sound. Groups such as The Ohio Players had taken the rhythms and controversial messages and modernized them, which essentially made Sly obsolete.
Small Talk found Sly Stone putting everything on cruise control. There was not much innovation, nor was there anything particularly terrible. Bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico had both departed the group, and Sly compensated by moving a number of tracks in a soul direction.
“Small Talk,” while not a ballad, is a gentle and idealistic song of family. The album cover shows a happy and domesticated Sly holding his child. Nice track, but it rings hollow now, as a quick divorce would follow. Likewise, “Mother Beautiful” was a heartfelt ode to Sly’s mother.
The best track here is “Loose Booty,” as it is the one true funk song on the album. Sly cranks up the brass and the song just gets into a hand-clapping party groove.
On the other hand, “Say You Will,” “Holdin’ On,” and “Wishful Thinkin’” are decent, but more was expected from Sly at the time. But “Can’t Strain My Brain,” with its use of strings, and the almost silly doo-wop style cut “This Is Love” are less than decent.
In the final analysis, Small Talk has a few classic moments but not enough to raise it above mediocrity. If you would like to invest some time with Sly & The Family Stone, this is not a place to start.
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