While the title track would propel Ed Sanford (keyboards/vocals) and John Townsend (keyboards/vocals) into the Top Ten, the pair were concurrently session musicians for notable West Coast pop rockers Loggins & Messina, Brenton Wood, and the Dirt Band, among others. In fact, the duo released the album as Sanford/Townsend Band the previous year, to little (or no) attention. However, when "Smoke From a Distant Fire" shot up to number nine in the summer of 1977, the long player was re-evaluated, re-named, and reissued to further solidify their one-hit wonder status. The rest of the platter continues with much the same slick and blue-eyed soullessness that was being churned out of L.A. from the likes of Toto and the Michael McDonald-era Doobie Brothers. Not even the formidable team of Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett can prevent sides such as the syncopated, disco-infused "Shake It to the Right," or the cheesy, synth-led "Does It Have to Be You" from sounding as if its initial inspiration were derived out of the incidental score to a porno flick. They recount the mid-'70s Southern Cali hedonistic existence on "Moolah Moo Mazuma (Sin City Wahh-oo)," tellingly sporting the lyrics "Well there ain't no deed that a dude won't do/When he's hustling for a buck or two/In sin city wah-oo." There are a few redeemable moments in the form of the somewhat anachronistic "Squire James" -- a rather dark and lurid tale of lust and revenge. The selection is guilded by a wistful melody and is one of the effort's better arrangements. "Sunshine in My Heart Again" is another highlight that is comparatively organic, sporting pleasant and prominent acoustic and pedal steel guitar licks more akin to a Muscle Shoals production. The concluding "Rainbows Colored in Blue" blends a refined jazzy melody with a considerably muscular R&B-informed delivery. Sanford & Townsend followed up Smoke From a Distant Fire (1977) with Duo-Glide (1977) and Nail Me to the Wall (1979). The absence of any chart action effectively sealed their fate, although both resumed behind the scenes as studio stalwarts and songwriters.
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AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer