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Higher! Box set
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2013 four CD set. All through the brilliant highs and the murky lows of the late '60s and early '70s, Sly & The Family Stone had the globe dancing to the music. The creativity of the mixed-race, mixed-gender, and mixed-genre band shines in this new 77-track box set. This incredible collection showcases the classic hits not just in stereo format, but in the good ol' mono mixes which went missing long ago with the transistor radio, and in unheard early versions, and concert performances. Also included are gems from Sly Stewarts' pre-Family Stone period, studio outtakes, and potent instrumentals from this archetype of jam bands. With 17 previously unreleased tracks, it's a lot more music than you knew was there all remastered to hit the pinnacle of sound. This powerful music is accompanied by a stunningly colorful and evocatively detailed 104-page, 10-inch book of rare photographs, posters, picture sleeves, recording documents, vintage ads, and other memorabilia, along with extensive liner notes by Jeff Kaliss (author of Sly's only authorized biography), track-by-track annotations, and a detailed timeline of Sly and The Family's life and career.
Top customer reviews
I don't understand why Sly hasn't reached quite the legendary status of other iconic and innovatory musicians. This superbly packaged product deserves to be widely heard as it is the best thing yet to reflect his output and versatility. Buy it!
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!!
The first CD I played was the bonus 5 song EP. This is a superb disc in its own right. The medley track is a revelation as is the instrumental bonus song Dust To Dust.
The track selection on the 4 main CDs is going to disappoint some purists and fans of Sly Stone, but I have enjoyed the many songs that are not that familiar to me, especially the many sessions from 1967 included in this box set. 1967 was a very prolific time for Sly and the band.
The Mono Singles included are interesting with a different sound and feel to the stereo versions. What impressed me is the sound quality of these tracks, they sound fresh and with more dynamics.
I am also impressed with how good Sly's later music is. He continued to produce good music up to the mid 1970s despite his issues with drugs.
Sadly he has not produced anything like the music Sly made from the tracks on this box set. We are lucky to have a box set of some great music that has a happy vibe and great melodies that I am enjoying immensly.
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