Kokomo

Kokomo [1975]

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Kokomo were renowned as Britain's finest funk band of the mid-'70s, a genuine live experience, which makes their 1975 eponymous debut a bit of a shock: there's no live feel here, only slick studio gloss that brings the album closer to the sunbleached sounds of the American West Coast than the R&B-vamping working bands that populated the pub rock circuit Kokomo frequented. Kokomo yo-yos between percolating funk that flirts with disco -- à la the Average White Band -- and the smoothest of soft rock, everything sounding mellow and relaxed even when the tempo revs up, as it does on the opener "Kitty Sitting Pretty." Here, the group's female backing singers take center stage, but they're prominent throughout, even when they're fading into the background to support the band's other singers, who can evoke Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, or Frankie Miller, depending on the tune. Although Kokomo is bursting at the seams with nine members, they sound impressively sleek here -- too much so, really, as the sleekness tends to flatten out any sense of funk on this LP. That's why the softer blue-eyed soul moments work better than the dance tracks -- the shimmering "Feeling This Way" and a cover of Bobby Womack's "I Can Understand It" suit the sound of the production better than the bright, laid-back funk of "I'm Sorry Babe" -- but all in all, Kokomo fails to live up the group's reputation as a killer live band, the kind that was so good they inspired Graham Parker and had Bob Dylan hire them as support for the initial Desire sessions. That group resurfaced on the band's better second album, Rise and Shine!

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