Sly and the Family Stone: The Collection
Box Set, Remastered
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SLY & THE FAMILY STONE 'THE COLLECTION' CONTAINS ALL 7 DELUXE REISSUES OF THE SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE ALBUMS 'A WHOLE NEW THING', 'DANCE TO THE MUSIC', 'LIFE', 'STAND!', 'THERE'S A RIOT GOIN' ON', 'FRESH' AND 'SMALL TALK'. 7 CLASSIC ALBUMS REMASTERED FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME FEATURING PREVIOUS UNRELEASED TRACKS AND RESTORED ART. Sony. 2007.
First, a sigh of exasperated relief--exasperation because it's taken a needlessly long time to get Sly and the Family Stone's catalog remastered and properly reissued. From the band's 1967 debut, A Whole New Thing through their 1974 swan song, Small Talk, the shifting band indulged everything from the long horn lines, fast rhythms, and quickly unmistakable urgent delivery of "Turn Me Loose," with its rapid, jerking funk rhythms and quick, sharp horn blasts, to the chilled groove, string backing, and slinky guitar on "Say You Will."
In between there's an embarrassment of riches: The 1968 one-two punch of Dance to the Music's title track and "Higher" introduces a gleaming exuberance; everyone wants to get higher and dance, but slowly the tune titles and funky whimsy of tunes like "Chicken," "Love City," "Fun," and the sheer musical cheer of "Harmony," show that Sly's bridge from hard-hitting funk riffage to more rock, more pop got mixed up with significantly new commercial heights (and larger narcotic appetites) and, simultaneously, more instability and simmering fury. By 1969, Sly's newness was transformed, with Stand!'s "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" snarl and droning organ and wah-wah guitar aplenty. The full-on blast of harmonica, fuzz guitars, and horns that opens "I Want to Take You Higher" just cemented the claim: Music would unite and fight and kick and get you high. The mega-hit "Everyday People" almost seems an anomaly in this company, a breezy harmony vocal backing, simple piano framing, reaching horn lines, and a churchy chorus. It's the biggest hit here, a true pop gem. Then there's "Sing a Simple Song" and its scouring, wordless shouts, a heavy beat backed by multiple voices half-atop each other, horn riffs jetting across guitar riffs, and an abrupt, scrambling end. It's a tight and tough embrace, an open door. It's 1969.
Then a dystopian haze turns full-force for There's a Riot Goin' On. By 1971, Sly had his Hollywood mansion and legions of droppers-by laying down parts of Riot. The result is entrancing, backed often by an austere, early drum machine and featuring dope-glazed vocals, paranoid shadows and, of course, a stewing funk groove. Horns are here, thinned out so they jab harder, and the keyboards gleam and shimmer and icily coat the beats, which sound in today's parlance simply lo-fi. And the beats, they've slowed menacingly, with voices dropping in, dropping out. Drugs were flowing freely by this point, complicating Sly's sound, inadvertently making an album that matches its maker's psyche-in-time indelibly. Once 1973's Fresh emerges, the austere, haunted glaze happens beneath slow-stewing grooves, as on the seemingly frivolous "Frisky," where the drums and keys and horns are enmeshed tightly, showing barely any sonic separation. The great bassist Larry Graham had left the Family by now, replaced by Rusty Allen, whose bass pops up as framing, while the vocals go lean and languid, turning to moans and melismatic blurs as the groove stirs. "If You Want Me to Stay" is a highlight, and the album is deeply funky even while reaching across the divide toward pop (rather than the '60s albums bridges to psychedelic rock, which proved itself pragmatically limited for the more intensely rebellious public as the Vietnam War and Watergate sent long social shadows).
As for Small Talk, it's the least ambitious, most settled session. The sounds are gorgeous in the new remastered form, making a new case for Small as a worthy bookend on your Sly shelf. Yes, he burned brighter and hotter and more furiously. It's still the same nervy mix, dramatic and intense. --Andrew Bartlett
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This collection is indeed a collection - All 7 studio albums remastered with bonus tracks (most of which were unreleased), digipacked in their original covers with era photos & liner noters - the most interesting being the liner notes in There's A Riot Goin' On.
When I listened to all the albums in order, not only did I experience the genius of Sly & the tightness of The Family Stone, I experienced the transition of the peace & love idealism of the late 60's to the turbulent reality of the early 70's (from Sly's point of view) and the ups and downs of one of the most creative minds in popular music. More importantly, I understood how their music played a vital role in the creation of Funk as we know it today - in particular, the slap technique of bass playing created by Larry Graham.
In my opinion, no good music collection would be complete without the music of Sly & The Family Stone. This box set is a must.
Yes, it's missing the three 1969/1970 non-LP singles - "Hot Fun in the Summertime", "Everybody is a Star", and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)", but fresh (heh) stereo mixes of those were done and presented in 2002 on "The Essential Sly & the Family Stone", still available on both CD and iTunes.
Their first album was ""Whole New Thing," starting with the song "Underdog": a funky, deliciously soulful song, that builds in intensity up to the mellow dancey melody. It sets the mold for the songs that follow, full of frantic energy ("I gotta keep on MOVING!").
Once that has snared you in, they unleash seven albums' worth of outstanding music: "Dance to the Music," "Life," "Stand!" "There's a Riot Goin' On," "Fresh," "Small Talk, and others. Their music was cobbled out of electric funk, bluesy rock, tightly-wound psychedelic dance-rockers, colourful dancey blues, and astounding combinations of all of the above.
There was no band like Sly and the Family Stone back when they debuted, and to date nobody's managed their magical blend of styles. Admittedly not every song was brilliant -- "Run Run Run" is an uncomfortable amalgam of funky horns, rock riffs and blippy electric organ, none of which really manages to mesh. But that was the exception that proved the rule.
Their instrumentation was a big burst of scintillating energy -- Sly himself provided a big chunk of it, playing soaring organ, piano, fuzz basslines, harmonica, and who knows what else. He was backed by a solid array of musicians who finished off the complex, dancy melodies -- sax, trumpet, more driving bass guitar, a shimmering psychedelic electric piano, and even a bit of violin.
And the lyrics were similarly energetic. Aside from wanting you to dance, they for an end to racism and hatred, and for people to embrace love and tolerance -- all sung in Sly's slightly warbly blues voice, with other band members joining in. They obviously meant it, because somehow that belief filters on through to the listener -- these messages don't make you sick.
The complete albums of Sly and the Family Stone are a must-have for fans of music, whether it's classic or just really, really good. Definitely a "Collection" worth having.