Pete Johnson’s Blast from My Past: Carlton Jumel Smith –“1634 Lexington Avenue”

Now stick with me dear readers, this is one hard record for this humble reviewer to quantify. In the spirit of full disclosure I have to tell you, that I love Sir Carlton Jumel Smith. I have known him heading on 25 years and he is one of my fave people walking the earth. We have an old bond forged in the gritty NYC Lower East Side music scene in the 1990s. Countless shows and rehearsals made us close on a level that is probably hard for him to achieve with many in his orbit today. He is a bandleader and the man in charge, and his act is different than when he was in the band called the Thrill Cycle.

The Thrill Cycle was an act that basically added up to James Brown meets Aerosmith. It was a coming together of two worlds on equal footing and we had a great run of creativity and songwriting and great shows. I learned so much being in that band and to tell the secret from my perspective, it was a joy because the chemistry was right. The idea back then was to blend soul and rock and roll, 90’s style. The Thrill Cycle was a band that connected with people and it was the first band I was in where I ever heard an audience roar and I actually had to take a step backward from the force. Ya can’t buy that kind of thang. We broke up after 5 years of hard work and everyone went their separate ways. I continued working in the music business and Carlton began his step by step domination of the soul audiences around the world. He did it the hard way. Doing shows in China, Finland, the Far East, Eastern Europe, he kept going.

We kept in touch, always grabbing a minute in a studio here, or a lunch or dinner there whenever we could. Carlton and I are different, but I love that about us. I do not give a damn that we are and I celebrate that. I do not think he cares about why and neither do I. I love seeing him and giving him a big hug after he does a show is one of my fave things to do, which is what I did last night at a Lower East Side Club.

He has a new record entitled “1634 Lexington Avenue”. When you know Carlton you get to understand what family means to him and the album title reflects that family core. I love his stories about a kid dancing and entertaining adults in Spanish Harlem and the stories of him stalking famous soul stars like James Brown and countless others. He has done soul everyday of his life and now everything he worked for is coalescing such a beautiful way. This album is not his first great work, but it is his first great statement that falls in line with every part of who he is as an entertainer. Watching him walk the tightrope of entertainer, singer and bandleader at the show last night was a revelation. Never before have I seen it come together in such a powerful form.

When he blasted into the first single from his Timmion Records release, “This is What Love Looks Like”, with the band doing their thing, Carlton directing the show in real time, it was like watching Philippe Petite walk the high wire between the World Trade Centers and pull it off. It was an epiphany for me to witness this. He has now entered the arena of soul giants and I think if Jackie Wilson was alive today and on the bill…he would be concerned about this guy and the soul dynamite package he presents. “Woman You Made Me” is pure Carlton and a reflection of one immutable fact. The man loves women and women love him. I have seen it with my own two eyes…not in that way…get your minds out of the gutter. The band spun the music out with love and care and the audience responded with love and caring. That to me is the single greatest aspect of Carlton Jumel Smith; the way he cares about the show and the people attending, and the desire to connect with them in a spiritual and musical sense. It is all about the moment in soul music. The show and audience is all, and everything Carlton did last night was a reflection of all the hard work and travel he has done despite the odds in the last 15 years. Adversity and fire forges steel and makes people better.

Carlton Jumel Smith and his music is now as good as it gets. Do not waste time, just go see and hear Carlton’s show. It is top notch and unique as only he can be. I love him and am so proud of all his hard work and effort and it is a joy to see a hardworking man become who he is inside and show it to the world. Go buy his record and you will get a dose of real time soul! Carlton always makes me laugh and I will end this review with a line that I hope makes him chuckle. You can send the check to Sneaky Pete care of NJ. Here endeth the lesson about the Prodigal Son of Soul. ;o)

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