Breakin’ the Ice
Artist: Sweet Comfort band
Time: 9 Tracks / 34 mins
It took some funky band with horns to not just make this man who loved rock, folk, jazz and blues buy their album in 1978, but to still be loving it three decades later. Sweet Comfort Band is that act and Breakin’ the Ice is the disc. Judging by the feeding frenzy at Tollboothville when these SCB re-issues were announced, I am not the only one to remember this with more than affection.
Breakin’ the Ice deserves any praise lavished on it. Whether because they had accumulated a good stock of songs or whether by fluke, this collection has a complete set of goodies and no duds. Maybe it is the musical tension between funk, soul and rock that makes each track so strong, or maybe they are just great, tautly-constructed melodies played by consummate musicians.
Certainly the musicianship helps a lot and the four-piece has quality oozing from their pores. The Thomson brothers’ funky rhythm section is tight and sharp, with a bass that loves to strut; Randy Thomas’s guitar can solo, riff, play a funk rhythm or fill in as needed; tasty synth is dotted about and Bryan Duncan’s singing has always been class. He never gives less than everything on this, and his solo career shows how he is up there with any white soul singer; smooth, but always with passion.
Every track wraps an arm round you and invites you in to share the experience just try not to move, feel and enjoy throughout! It begins like Chicago, featuring the Seawind horns. On the title track, the horns and some funky bass synth take the strain, along with the band’s three-part harmonies, leaving guitar to fill in. Then the simple ballad “Young Girl” slows the tempo down for a bit. You can’t really listen to the guitar riff, vocals and piano licks of “Melody, Harmony” without thinking of the Doobies (as you have to think of “Long Train Runnin’” when the guitar riff and synth solos break out later on “The Lord is Calling”) and it leads almost seamlessly into the oh-so-smooth “I Need Your Love Again,” the guitar highly reminiscent of Tom Howard’s début.
The second half is another mix of ballads, disco-funk and rock, but the piece that sets it alight is the near-perfect “Searchin’ for Love.” Even with no horns, it is one track that sums up how well everyone just clicks together organically and intuitively, whether the machine-gun licks of the guitar, the supportive organ, or some drum breaks that add a real kick. Again, Duncan squeezes every bit of feeling out of this one, bending his notes all over. If you don’t buy the album, at least download this song.
After all this time, and having suffered Christian music’s descent to majoring on ‘intimate worship’ to the exclusion of so much else for so long, it is refreshing to hear songs that mix worship with real issues: commitment, life-change, the devil, truth, love, the virtues of faith and returning to God. However well the music plays, their lyrics always offer substance.
Michael Omartian, another '70s/'80s artist who had similarly creative soul-rock tensions, lost all the oomph, energy and style of his début White Horse during and after Adam Again, when he went dramatically soulwards. Similarly, although it maintained the high musicianship and featured Richie Furay, Hold On Tight, Sweet Comfort Band’s follow-up to this, was filled with unadventurous, mid-tempo pieces that had all the urgency of a Formula one race when the safety car is on the track. The melodies simply did not inspire any exciting arrangements, and it sounds like they didn’t believe they could capture the magic again.
The disc after that, Hearts of Fire started the road back. Although beautifully produced and polished to a smooth sheen, it swapped some of the horns for strings, and still lacked the pace and dramatic cohesion of Breakin’ the Ice. It took a hornless re-invention of the band to a Toto or Europe keyboard-dominated sound to re-instate their energy for their last two discs, Cutting Edge and Perfect Timing.
It would have been good to check producers to see whether they had anything to do with the variation in album quality, but unfortunately these discs do not have any of the extras that you might expect from a 30-year, limited-edition anniversary re-mastered version; not even writing or production credits.
All the same, four cheers to Retroactive for bringing this gem back to us.
4.5 Tocks Derek Walker