The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1972-1975
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The third and final chapter of the definitive collection of the great Memphis soul label Stax focuses on the early-mid 1970s; a time when the label was enjoying remarkable chart successes, yet was on the verge of its dramatic denouement. Vol. 3 contains all soul singles issued by Stax/Volt during those years and includes some of the biggest and best-loved hits of the day as well as a number of little-known gems by both major and less familiar artists.
This 2015 reissue comes in sleek, new packaging, presented in a rigid lift-off 5.5-inch x 5.5-inch box. The 10-disc set features 213 tracks and a full-color booklet with a 47,000-word essay by Stax historian Rob Bowman.
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At 10 CDs and 213 tracks, this set covers the latter-most era as Stax moves from just before its biggest triumph at its own sponsered music festival, Wattstax, to its unfortunate downfall in bankruptcy. As Stax was reaping the rewards of success in the summer of '72, Stax was placed in the distributional hands of CBS, a major player in popular music, to which hopefully Stax could acheive the once-and-for-all monumental household-name status of that of Motown. With Stax over-spending, certain people not being careful enough with money, and with CBS supposedly over-ordering, warehousing and holding back funds on Stax product, the deal went sour and Stax became racked with debts that would ultimately force them into a shutdown in late fall 1975.
Despite that kind of story that went behind the scenes of these fantastic recordings, none of that seems to cloud the atmosphere of the music. The silky smooth and raw funky '70s sounds of R&B are brought forth quite well. It is, as always with Stax, the stuff to get your groove on with!
Longtime Stax veterans Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Rufus Thomas, and Johnnie Taylor still enjoy some success, particularly the latter-most mentioned with his hits like "I Believe In You" (disc 4), "Cheaper To Keep Her" (disc 5), and "I've Been Born Again" (disc 7), and "Doin' My Own Thing" (disc 1) which is a return to his roots in blues. Rufus continues his string of dance singles like "Itch and Scratch" (disc 3), "Funky Robot" (disc 4) and "Boogie Ain't Nothin' But Gettin' Down" (disc 8), William Bell providing soul-soaked ballads like "Lovin' On Borrowed Time" (disc 4), and "Getting What You Want" (disc 7), and Eddie Floyd, who in my opinion, had the most fun-sounding repertoire such as "Yum Yum Yum (I Want Some)" (disc 1, the opener), "Soul Street" (disc 8), "Baby Lay Your Head Down" (reggae-sounding, disc 5), and "I Got A Reason To Smile" (disc 9). There are too many great songs to mention, as is the case with all the artists, and it's even a shame when looking at the list of singles that failed to hit the charts, because some have loads of potential. Take the Bessie Banks cut on disc 9, "Try To Leave Me If You Can"; that is such a sumptuous performance.
Other artists that slowly watched their careers at Stax dwindle down during this time is Carla Thomas (everything from her is great), the Bar-Kays (same), and Isaac Hayes (same again, check out his only vocal duet with David Porter on disc 2). Yet amidst some of the older acts seeing less and less activity in the output, many of the other artists continued to thrive along with new acts trying to get their names across. The Staple Singers are among Stax's most successful vocal groups as well as the Dramatics, the Emotions and the Soul Children along side Stax newbies Frederick Knight, Mel & Tim, Sandra Wright, Veda Brown, and Shirley Brown. Blues men Albert King and Little Milton continue to contrubute to the bluesy side of Stax while soul men and women you don't normally associate with Stax cut a few sides like Brook Benton, Inez Foxx, the Sweet Inspirations, and even fromer Motown star Kim Weston.
If none of the other sets really consumed you musically and emotionally through its feeling and lyrics, this one will. The lyrics reveal the honesty and sometimes intensity of what every human being experiences. Read near the beginning of the booklet where it says "Guts"; that about sums it all up.
Though this was Stax's closing years, it was more diversified than ever with its roster and with its genres of music that it branched out on. Not every single that Stax issued is here, hence the name "Stax/Volt Soul" singles. The rock group the Gentrys ("Keep On Dancing"), cut some sides with Stax, but they are not here. If that were the case, goodness knows how many more discs this one could have spawned if it covered rock, country, jazz and gospel; Rance Allen does not appear either. Not very many B-sides are included, but these are perhaps minor quibbles. This third box, like its predecessors, suits very well in telling the story of what Stax was all about. Rob Bowman's notes are very fun to read and very enlightening. Yet, every time it's still confusing as to what the root cause of what made Stax's mightiness cave in. The simple answer is that Stax became the victim of a hostile takeover, but that did not diminish the quality of the music and its soul. Enjoy the closing chapter of the story of a landmark record company that taught America that soul was in everyone.
STAX was releasing some REALLY bad*ss funky soul in the early '70s, the catch maybe is that the label didn't have AS distinct a sound as it did a few years earlier (then again, minus the romanticism, maybe it could be argued that one of the reasons Stax's sound was so unique was that so many of the hits sounded the same... yet were fronted by performers who had the star power to represent the sound... a pattern typical of most the great labels of the era) - - by the '70s, the STAX sound you hear is one that is evolving... and one in which the groups, rather than relying on one house band are also beginning to have their own sound... hence a label that was a true treasure chest of talent. While the world was catching up with them, STAX was simply "searching" for new directions... and hear you can hear it... gospel, funk, blues, rhythm & blues... even the orchestral soul of Issac Hayes and then some.
Though this box set might sound a bit pricey, actually its dirt cheap when you consider than if you buy all volumes of the story you're getting a full and complete soul education... and only 10 years earlier hunting down all this stuff would not have only been virtually impossible but cost a couple thousand dollars (this volume alone.) Now, hear it all is for relatively very little money, all in GOOD condition (nothing beat up or scratched) and at the push of a button... and minus the funky basement smell (actually I kinda miss that...)
If you like this series, definitely go watch the WATTSTAX (Living Word) DVD as well as Rob Bowman's SOULSVILLE U.S.A. book on the behind the scenes story of the label... they fit perfectly together.