Rhythm Machine is the latest outfit to be given the deluxe reissue treatment by the perennially excellent Now Again records. They were an Indianapolis funk band who spent the vast majority of the seventies touring throughout North America. This were the days when funk bands earned their corn (and their chops) with residencies in bars, set up meetings on basketball courts and took the stage in costumes they’d made themselves. It’s an era that’s delightfully evoked in the excellent booklet that accompanies the re-release of their 1976 album.
The story behind Rhythm Machine, and the only album they ever released, is tainted by tragedy, as is so often the case with these kind of reissues. But that’s not reflected in the music, which radiates positivity from start to finish. The aim, according to bassist and lead vocalist James Boone, was to create “an accessible mix of funk and ballads,” and in that they sure succeeded. A good reference point is The Blackbyrds, but with added saxophone oomph. As stated in Boone’s manifesto, the record is split almost equally between straight-out funk and ballads, but it’s probably the ballads that come out on top.
“Brenda and Me” is a beautiful, euphoric ode celebrating a couple’s love (“we’re going to be happy and free”), while “You Make Me Feel Right, Think Right, Do Right” is another sublime joint. However, the stand-out track–and the song that brought that them closest to a brush with fame–is “Put A Smile On Time.” If you’re a Now Again devotee, you should know it from their Soul Cal compilation, but this joyous underground classic has been setting off parties for the best part of forty years, and it’s good time vibes are irresistible.
Their album might not be a masterpiece, but it’s certainly worthy of the love, attention (and distribution) that Now-Again lavish on it, and that Rhythm Machine lacked, but deserved, first time around. The bonus (and previously unreleased) tracks to the original album include the magnificent “Laying and Playing” and hint at what might lain in store for Rhythm Machine had events not overtaken them. But whatever happened, this reissue stands as a tribute to the fact that the smile they put on time back in the day still shines as brightly today as it did thirty-five years ago.