Ron Louis Smith II – The Prince of Sunshine

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The Prince of Sunshine, released through Sunpire Records, marks Ron Louis Smith II’s first significant foray into a genre his father helped popularize. The son and nephew of the Smith Brothers, critical pieces in KC and the Sunshine Band’s legendary horn section, has musical skills running through his family tree, but Smith goes a step further. As a front man, songwriter, and bandleader, his debut album The Prince of Sunshine positions Smith as a potentially transformational figure in the dance and club pop scene.

There’s a tasty stew of musical elements coming together to make “Spank” memorable. R&B exerts its influence with colorful horn fills that supply much of the song’s surprising melodic strength and there’s a Caribbean edge in the song’s tempos, but groove is the dominant force. The percussion stays on target throughout gives hard-charging urgency to the song’s movement that helps sustain it over six minutes, but it’s never an abrasive ride. “Spank” has positive energy that steadily pushes on the listener to move, tap their feet, or dance. The instrumental breaks are the song’s highlights and show great inventiveness.

“Party Music” picks up when the first song leaves off and significantly expands its energy. From its first minute on, the music is constructed to quickly build and maintain an intense pace and succeeds. “Can’t Let Go” goes in a much more pop orientation, but retains the same physical edge fueling so many of the tracks on The Prince of Sunshine. Smith clearly relishes the vocal and gives it a passionate reading that enhances the song tremendously. “Love Talk” has one of the album’s best grooves and the tight interlocking of the song’s individual parts gives it a sleek, streamlined thrust. The sunshine pours through on “Come On and Do It” and its bright, irresistibly catchy melody is enough alone to imprint the song on a listener’s memory. Smith, however, leaves his mark on the song with an equally exuberant vocal.

He serves up some physical funk-laced dance with the straight-ahead “Real Good Time”. This is music that takes the best from his father’s era and melds it with his own influences from the 1980’s like Prince and Michael Jackson. The tempo is reminiscent of Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and there’s a raw suggestiveness in the recording not far removed from 1999 era Prince. Smith even gives a noticeable, but never silly, nod to James Brown near the song’s conclusion. “Party Freaks, Come On” represents an even longer step back into the past, but it’s never the sort of imitative trap that Smith’s lesser might embrace. It beats its chest with real exuberance and bubbles with the same energy that defines the album. The album’s final song, “Don’t Hold Back”, is another call to good times and expressing yourself joyfully. The dance music tempos are never far away, but Smith wisely layers this last outing with R&B instrumentation and a great swing.

The Prince of Sunshine rides a high wave of creativity from first song to last and never dips into mediocrity or parody. Ron Louis Smith II is an assured stylist and gifted singer who understand the balance between musicality and performance – he hits all of his marks and embodies each track in a dramatic way.

9 out of 10 stars.

Shannon Cowden