Sly & The Family Stone had climbed the mountain but by July 1974 they were beginning their descent. Drugs, not appearing for concerts, and tensions within the group formed the background for the recording of Small Talk. While the album would include some credible material and be a commercial success, the creativity of Stand and There’s A Riot Goin’ On had departed.
Sly & The Family Stone were now not alone in the funk field. Hundreds of groups had taken Sly’s legacy and run with it. Artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire, George Clinton, Graham Central Station, Mandrill, and even the godfather of soul, James Brown, had superseded Sly’s sound. Groups such as The Ohio Players had taken the rhythms and controversial messages and modernized them, which essentially made Sly obsolete.
Small Talk found Sly Stone putting everything on cruise control. There was not much innovation; yet nor was there anything terrible, either. Bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico had both departed the group and Sly compensated by moving a number of tracks in a soul direction.
“Small Talk,” while not a ballad, would be a gentle and idealistic song of family. The album cover would show a happy and domesticated Sly holding his child. While a nice track, it would ultimately ring hollow as a quick divorce followed. Likewise, “Mother Beautiful” was a heartfelt ode to his mom.
The best track was “Loose Booty” as it was one of the few true funk songs on the album. Sly cranked up the brass and the song just gets into a hand clapping party groove.
On the other hand, “Say You Will,” “Holdin’ On.” and “Wishful Thinkin’” are OK but more was expected from Sly. “Can’t Strain My Brain,” with its use of strings, and the almost silly Doo-Wop type song, “This Is Love,” are less than average.
In the final analysis, Small Talk has a few classic moments but not enough to raise it above the average. If you would like to invest some time with Sly & The Family Stone, this is not a place to start.