Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Sly & The Family Stone—
Small Talk


Released 1974 on Epic
The Seth Man, August 2009ce
The seventh and (for all practical purposes) final Sly & The Family Stone album, “Small Talk” saw a complete change in Sly’s direction of the band from the cool linear grooves of “Fresh” into a far warmer and personal environment of sound. Reflecting his recent marriage to his girlfriend Kathy Silva, the sleeve art depicted a more literal ‘Family Stone’ with a portrait of the happy couple with their newborn son, Sylvester BubbAli Stewart. More becalmed and far more relaxed than anything Sly had formerly committed to album with the Family Stone, “Small Talk” reflected yet another lineup change with the absence of the recently departed Little Sister and only Vaetta retained; Bill Lordan replaced Andy Newmark while the addition of the gifted violinist Sid Page added an extra dimension of sweetness and warmth to the proceedings. Possibly, this is exactly what Sly was looking for as his newfound life as a married man and father carried over into his music as it coaxed forth nothing but sweetness and warmth. As he sang on side one, it was “time for livin’...time for givin’” and although the nearest thing to an MOR-styled album Sly would ever release, “Small Talk” still revolves around the orbit of inner grooves that only he could supply. The title track opens with cries and burbling from the infant Sylvester as Daddy Stone unsuccessfully tries to hush him with words and a low pressure groove of organ and finger snaps. “Say You Will” is seasoned lightly with gospel and Sly’s voice to the front of the mix and signals the entry of Sid Page’s exquisite violin touches. The thin wisp of a love ode to his wife Kathy follows with the brief and sensitive “Mother Beautiful”, featuring the first-ever instance of a Sylvester Stewart co-writing credit on a Family Stone album.
Sly’s strongest single in years, “Time For Livin’” enters and sees Sly testifying positively to his new view on life to deft flourishes of Page’s violin and backing gospel chorus. Tiptoeing in with organ and bass as if not disturb Sly Junior, “Can’t Strain My Brain” ends the album side in a hushed manner with a meditative slow tempo appeal for tranquility. But barging in at the beginning of side two comes the liveliest moment of “Small Talk” with the furious syncopation of “Loose Booty.” A total curveball on an album mostly concerning itself with love and commitment, the repetitive and persistent chanting of the names of that Old Testament Biblical furnace trio ‘Shadrach/Meshach/Abednego’ is as catchy as it is bizarre, and the whole band is copping a ride on the funk express upwards (An earlier take of “Loose Booty” also appears as bonus track on the new Sony/Legacy reissue of “Small Talk” and illustrates how Sly’s mental groove slide rule could apply and re-balance any number of grooves to the same song. The following year on The American Music Awards, he would perform a re-arrangement of “Loose Booty” as a disco song. Because he could.)

The swaying gospel-infusion of “Holdin’ On” continues the low-key vibe, while “Wishful Thinkin’” takes it down even lower as it wafts in like a warm summer breeze with sparse, gauzy accompaniment dotted with jazzy guitar accents from Freddie Stone. But the gospel configuration reenters with “Better Thee Than Me” and especially “Livin’ While I’m Livin’”, the jumpiest sort of thing you’d expect from an amphetamined Staple Singers. Concluding the album with a track that brings Sly’s musical odyssey full circle is the simple doo-wop proclamation “This Is Love.” The cloying violin is too sweet to be saccharine, and the entire song brings to mind nothing less than full contentment as the simplest of piano backing from Sly soon swells into a hugely orchestrated big old sloppy kiss happy ending.

(The Sony/Legacy reissue also includes as bonus tracks the previously mentioned version of “Loose Booty” as well as an alternate version of “Time For Livin’”, the previously unreleased instrumental “Positive” and an early version of “Crossword Puzzle” which would wind up in a very different form on Sly’s next album, “High On You.”)


- For Julie.