Ain't But The One Way
Limited Edition, Rmst ed.
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Here is the purveyors of funk, soul, and rock...Sly & The Family Stone's second and final release from the super rare Warner Bros. era. Produced by the great Sly Stone and Stewart Levine, this long sought after collectors item is back in print, remastered from the original Warner Bros. tapes by Joe Reagoso, and features all of the original artwork elements from this 1982 funk/soul/rock release. The music is simmering from the first seconds of the lead hit track L.O.V.I.N.U....as well as WE CAN DO IT ALL, ONE WAY, and the amazing cover of The Kinks YOU REALLY GOT ME. Nice way to start 2010!
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By 1976, Sly's career was at an extremely low point. He hadn't had a significant commercial hit in years, he had lost his management, the original Family Stone was long gone, Sly's drug problems were apparently getting the best of him, and former bassist Larry Graham was putting Sly to shame (on record and in concert) with his more funky, pop, and upbeat version of the original Family Stone formula with his band Graham Central Station. In fact, Sly was struggling so much at this time that he actually toured (in support of his attempt at Philly International soul "Heard Ya Missed Me, Now I'm Back") as an opening act for the famous P-Funk Earth Tour in late 1976. It was a sad irony to see Sly opening for two bands (P-Funk and Bootsy's Rubber Band) that had been so inspired by HIM in the first place. At the end of tour, in fact, two of Sly's backup singers (one of which was his cousin) defected and joined P-Funk where they later recorded as The Brides of Funkenstein.
Sly dropped out of visibility, surfacing two years later in 1978 when he had left Epic and signed to Warner Brothers, and began working on his latest in a series of "comeback" LPs, "Back On the Right Track." Opinions are varied on the musical quality of this album (I think there are some great songs on there, but nothing resembling a chart hit) but commercially, it fared poorly. That must have hurt Sly after all the comeback hype. I don't think he even toured in support of the album. And I remember seeing Sly on the Mike Douglas show at this time. He was dispirited and so out of it on drugs that he could barely speak. Mike and the other guests just stared at him in disbelief.
He dropped out of sight again until around 1980, when word was that Sly was now in George Clinton's camp. The plan was for Sly to guest on some P-Funk releases, and for Clinton to produce (or co-produce) Sly's next album for Warners. This made sense, since Sly and Clinton were label mates at Warners (via Funkadelic and Bootsy). Clinton was talking the Sly project up in the press, Sly made cameo appearances during P-Funk's 1981 tour, and he and original Family Stone trumpeter Cynthia Robinson are on two versions of "Funk Gets Stronger" from Funkadelic's summer 1981 LP "The Electric Spanking of War Babies." Supposedly, the original version took up an entire side of a projected double album, but was later edited down. Personally, I love these tracks but objectively, they sound as if the main priority in the studio that day was getting extremely high, there happened to be a few instruments laying about, and the tape recorder was running. The same can be said for most of the Sly/P-Funk collaborations, the most significant of which is the P-Funk All Stars' 3-part "Hydraulic Pump" 12-inch (the complete version is available on the P-Funk All-Stars CD "Hydraulic Funk"). Like a lot of Sly's material with P-Funk (which is spread out over several releases), it sounds like they were trying to take a little bit of music and make a lot of out of it.
By late 1981, Clinton had become involved in a bitter dispute with Warners, with the end result that Funkadelic left Warners (they haven't released an album under the Funkadelic name since then). That also threw a wrench into the Sly project, which hadn't yet been completed. And supposedly, Sly just vanished, leaving the album unfinished. Warners brought producer Stewart Levine in to salvage and complete the project, and the album was released two years later in the spring of 1983 with the title "Ain't But the One Way." The cover photo (with Sly jumping over a fence wearing camouflage pants) dated back 5 years to the "Back On the Right Track" photo sessions. Sly must have been long gone if they couldn't even get an up-to-date photo for the cover of his album!
If you look at the album's personnel listing, you will see the names of many original Family Stone members, and also the names of many studio session players. That suggests that the basic tracks were cut with Sly, Clinton, the Family Stone (maybe augmented by some players from P-Funk), and that the project was completed later with Levine and the studio musicians. That's probably why the album has a glossy, generic sound to it. If you listen closely, you can hear traces of the Sly/Clinton approach underneath, especially in Sly's lyrics, singing attitude, and electric piano playing. If you want to compare the two approaches, listen to the demo version of "Who In the Funk Do You Think You Are" from the first volume of George Clinton's Family Series, and compare it with the Levine-produced version on the "...One Way" album.
As far as the music, it sounds far more inventive and inspired than Sly's previous LP "Back On The Right Track." Hardcore Sly fans know that there is not a single Sly LP without at least a few moments of genius, however fragmentary. If you're sensitive to Sly's musical "codes," you can hear that they had some good ideas going, lyrically and musically. You can hear Sly's stoned wit in good effect. But you can also hear that the ideas were left in a skeletal and incomplete state, and were completed by someone else with a very different production concept. The strongest songs to me are the poignant rehab ballad "Ha Ha Hee Hee," the cover of the Kinks "You Really Got Me," the vignette "Sylvester" (another song seemingly dedicated to Sly's mother), the "I Want to Take You Higher" retread (called "High Y'all"), and a few others.
You have to give Clinton credit for inspiring Sly to break out of the playing-it-safe mold of his recent records and push the envelope here. And Stewart Levine also deserves a bit of credit for achieving a professional sound in the end with what he had to work with.
If they had completed this album with the original team, it would probably have been the strongest and most interesting Sly album in a LONG time. It might have even been a commercial success. But unfortunately, it fell victim to music business chicanery and drug excess. "Ain't But The One Way" turned out to be Sly's de-facto farewell to the music business. He hasn't relased an album since then and for the rest of the 1980s, it seemed like he was in the news for one drug-related offence after another. The funny thing about it is that on the Mike Douglas show I mentioned above, one of the few coherent things I remember Sly saying was - and this is a quote as best I can remember - "I'm gonna release one more album and if it doesn't go platinum - BYE Y'ALL..."