12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Excellent final word on the legacy of the tragically self-destructive funk genius.....
, 29 Sept. 2013
This review is from: Higher! (Audio CD)
It is depressing that a month after its release there is only a single UK review of this superlative box-set from one of the true greats of 20th century popular music who should be mentioned in the same breath as The Beatles, Stones, Beach Boys, Dylan, JB, Wonder, Gaye, Marley, Miles, etc. It is a fact that Sly is becoming increasingly marginalised in the pantheon of popular music greats probably as a result of his spectacular implosion in the early-mid 70s and it looks like this set isn't going to act as a corrective to that sad state of affairs. It could be that this box will yield underwhelming sales figures just like those of the superlative early noughties "Essential" 2CD compilation which should be the starting point for any neophyte to this extraordinary artist.
This genesis of this 4CD set goes back as far as 2008 and has apparently gone through several iterations over the years (3CD, 3CD+DVD, 3xStudio/1xLive CDs, etc) until it reached the 4CD version now on sale which comprises mostly studio tracks with a smattering of live tracks from TV appearances and a few from the '70 Isle Of Wight Festival (brilliant performances). The set proceeds chronologically from Sly & the family's inception in the mid-60's, through the break up of the band in the early 70's to Sly own tragic dissolution in the mid-70's (a good place to stop since after this there has been no break in the clouds).
The track listing comprises plenty of mono-mixes of the essential Sly & The Family Stone 1960's singles (going to stereo in the 70's) with typically a punchier sound than their stereo album counterparts. There are also 17 unreleased tracks, comprising a number of instrumentals from the late '60s (best of the bunch being the ultra-funky "Wonderful World Of Color") together with a few vocal tracks, some demo/some studio (best being two early versions of "I Get High On You" with a pronounced psychedelic tone). The remainder of the unreleased songs, bar the Isle Of Wight live tracks, mostly come from the end of Sly's tenure on Epic (ie. '75/'76) and are surprisingly strong ('Hoboken' & 'High') which shows he wasn't totally creatively exhausted despite appearances.
The rest of the tracks are an intelligent selection from his pre-Epic days (just a flavour from 5 tracks) and his Epic albums (mono for his 1st album, then stereo for the rest bar the single mono-mixes). There are very few tracks that you could say shouldn't be here, just the overlong jam "Sex Machine" from 'Stand' (an exhausting 13-minutes - should've been replaced with 3-4 shorter tracks) and the novelty "Small Fries" by The French Fries (which has silly chipmunk vocals, stoned nonsense really - probably more fun to make than listen to!). The live TV version of Little Sister's "You're The One" from Don Kirshner's Rock Concert on CD4 has pretty rough sound despite being a blazing performance so the merits of its inclusion depends on your tolerance for sub-par sound....
I also indulged myself and purchased the 5CD version of this set exclusive to Amazon.com despite the Customs charges (I must REALLY like Sly & The Family Stone) which has six extra tracks: (i) A longer studio version of "Stand" with an extended fade-out where the music drops out and the band sings largely acapella bar rhythmic hand-clapping accompaniment. (ii) A '68 live version of "St. James Infirmary" [lengthy and OK but not particularly funky]. (iii) The alternative quad-mix of "Time For Living" with chat on the intro and more violin weaving through the arrangement [pretty cool]. (iv) A live TV medley of "Sing a Simple Song / Hot Fun in the Summertime / Sex Machine / I Want to Take You Higher" [excellent, should have been on main set instead of "You're The One" in scratchy sound]. (v) A driving instrumental "Dust To Dust" with some slashing guitar work, very nice but you feel it really needed vocals to push it over the top. (vi) The real gem of the six, a late period Sly funk tune from '75 ["Sitting On My Fanny"] which really cooks and furthermore probably says a lot about his mindset at the time, again should've made it to the main set since this is easily one of the best things on the whole 5CDs and better than anything on his last Epic album!!
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