Ever since disco dawned in the mid- to late '70s albums like Smokin' have become increasingly rare, albums that look toward musical skills and instruments rather than technology and contemporary trends. In fact, it's hard not to think of '70s-era Isaac Hayes or the Ohio Players in their prime while listening to this album. That's not intended to slight Bobby's efforts here in any way -- Smokin' is no intentional homage to the '70s, and in no way is Bobby aping the sound of that classic era. Rather, Bobby simply does what few musicians have done since the '70s: He plays his instruments with passion and expertise. It's that simple. In an age where sequencers, samplers, and dusty '70s vinyl have replaced traditional instruments, you don't get a chance to hear musicians like Bobby unless it's via a sampler. Not only can the guy play almost every instrument imaginable, but he can also sing and write songs in a dizzying number of styles, to the point where Smokin' becomes almost too accomplished in its breadth. And that's about the only concrete criticism you can throw at Bobby: His talents become almost exhausting as he moves from smoked-out funk vamps, to candle-lit bedroom anthems, to good-hearted soul crooning, and then back to smooth funk jams. Jerry Soto's noteworthy guitar playing helps give the album a consistent tone, but you're still left scratching your head when somebody asks you what sort of album Smokin' is. It's a little bit of everything -- funk, soul, R&B, soul-jazz, jazz-funk, and so on. More than anything else, this uncategorizable quality is what gives the album a '70s feel. In the age of marketing-savvy major labels looking to fill every imaginable niche, you simply don't find albums that cross as many boundaries as this album does, and similarly you don't find musicians, let alone bands, who are capable of crossing those time-honored boundaries. So even if that means Bobby may never cross over to commercial success, at least he's committed to being a musician rather than a pop celebrity. When you consider that, he's not only talented but respectable.
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