"Without Delano there would be no Derrick" - Derrick May
Detroit's Delano Smith has been around the circuit since DJing in 1978 but only releases his first LP now (albeit after many singles). A real treat for fans tuned into his sound, but for new converts? The answer is 'maybe'.
The genre of deep house has been much maligned, thanks to music portals which require convenient and accessible ways to categorise music, through no fault of their own. What is deep house? And for that matter, what is being deep all about? Whatever your melancholic definition, Delano Smith is one who belongs firmly in it.
A said protege of Ken Collier, one of Detroit's original heroes, veteran Delano Smith represents the housier, deeper side of Detroit since DJing the circuit in 1978. Despite taking a hiatus during the 90s, Delano Smith is back in the production game, with steady releases on imprints such as Kolour Recordings, Third Ear, Still Music as well as his own Mixmode Recordings set up with fellow longtime Detroit DJ, Tony Foster.
His first album after numerous single releases, An Odyssey (released on the tasteful Berlin label, Sushitech) however is not quite deep house as you would come to expect. By the end of the journey, or odyssey, one has been unwittingly led into the domain of techno, or at least into the spaces of house-tinged techno.
Listen to it in full as a CD format, and the album performs like a DJ mix -- moving in and out of moods while driving one to a harder edge apparent in tracks such as 'Trust in Something' and the album's title track, 'Odyssey'. The latter being a throughly on-point track that would sit well together with other Berlin-inspired techno releases today, if not for an underlying tone that is more mellow than aggressive in execution.
To begin with, the listener is eased into this album. Opening tracks such as 'Survival' and 'What I Do' are introductions into the rich, organic groove tapestry of Delano Smith. A comparison in mind would be the work of labels such as Distance, Seasons Limited or Underground Quality.
About a third into the album, the lovely 'Thoughts' presents itself as a swirling and contemplative spoken word track. At 2.28 minutes, it's a short segue towards 'I Wonder', a confidently deep house track with a chugging shuffling groove and all the familiar elements of the genre that make it work so well. Perfect in a warm up set.
Perhaps more than a coincidence in name, the appropriately titled 'Midnight Hours' combines a sexy jazzy jam with a driving groove reminiscent of his earlier Midnite EP on Third Ear as well as Deep Fundamentals EP.
'Ocean Melody', another short segue, takes inspiration from the sea with a seashell-like reverb, a deep water bassline and ebbing synth waves that wash you over. The progressive house-sounding 'Invitation Only' is interesting by album's end, with playful breaks in between that rescue the track from being one lost in the 90s. Rounding up the album's travel narrative is the delightful 'Togetherness' with twinkling keys and soaring pads that leave the listener on a high note, at least by deep house standards.
An Odyssey is the work of a mastered artist who is comfortable but not complacent within his boundaries. Where there are opportunities to breakout, he seizes, and where there are moments to step back and ruminate he does. Save for the album's techier numbers, I would be surprised if this album converts the uninitiated to his sound, but that might just be the melancholic deep house lover in me speaking.