You don’t need to be any kind of Stax freak to get into this music, and this new compilation makes for a great starter drug. It’s awesome for people who do not have the originals all on vinyl or eight-track or lousy CD masters from 17 years ago. It is also probably a good thing for people who do have them all already anyway. Listening to songs like “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”, “B-A-B-Y”, “Do the Funky Chicken”, and “Starting All Over Again” is like taking a stroll through the garden of sublime American soul music. But the most important thing about it is that it augurs well for the new era to come. If Concord continues to pump out high-class re-issue material like this, then we will see an undreamt-of Stax renaissance in the next few years. The liner and the photos are beautifully done, and the sound is as crisp as the creases in the Mad Lads’ pants.
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Time Life’s fantastic three-disc set, The Definitive Collection (1947-1966), is aptly named, for it’s the very first Stanley Brothers compilation to include tracks from every label they recorded for, including Rich-R-Tone, Columbia, Mercury, King, and Starday. Therefore, it’s an incredible collection for novices and fans alike, compiling the Stanleys’ greatest secular and gospel sides, songs from the band’s famed radio shows, and a handful of previously unreleased live recordings, along with a generous booklet of photos and highly informative liner notes. Some say that the Stanleys’ Mercury recordings from 1953 are their best, and it’s true that songs like Carter’s “(Say) Won’t You Be Mine” and Ralph’s “I’m Lonesome Without You” are early perfections of the style they’d disseminate well into the mid-‘60s.
Legacy gave the long overdue re-issue treatment to Sly and the Family Stone’s catalogue this year. The Collection is for anyone who loves great music. Fraudulent transcendence is one of pop music’s prime currencies—a contemporary band such as the Polyphonic Spree, for example, may share the Family Stone’s gimmick of fashion and embrace of community, but their supposedly ecstatic music lacks any sense of mortal urgency. Understand this: Sly & the Family Stone’s music is not just a feel-good grandiosity, but a bid for higher things, once-attainable things of irregular power, things that would prove more vulnerable to humble truths than musical fantasy.
The Brit Box collects 78 songs of UK alt-pop from 1985 to 1999. Rhino’s four-disc set traces the evolution of this music, from just after the neon lights of new wave died, through the Britpop explosion, and ending right before Coldplay emerged to rule supreme. This box is both an excellent survey and a very well sequenced 312-minute mix. Because Rhino didn’t stick to one genre, you won’t get fatigued by hearing the same style over and over. For Anglophiles and pop lovers alike, the Brit Box is quite a treat.
Oasis - Live Forever
San Francisco in the late ‘60s is one of the most highly mythologized places and times in rock history, and not without reason. The area spawned at least a half dozen top-tier bands, and figures like Jerry Garcia, Sly Stone, Janis Joplin, and Grace Slick became icons. Steve Miller wound up being one of the biggest pop acts of the ‘70s, and Carlos Santana, of all people, found a new life as a collaborator with younger pop figures in the late ‘90s, a role which he continues to play. The Dead soldiered on in various permutations after Garcia’s death 12 years ago, and they remain one of the biggest moneymaking groups in the industry. But it’s the music these folks recorded in the late ‘60s that serves as their legacy, and some of their best work can be found on Love Is the Song We Sing. For the first time, the musical and attitudinal highs and lows of the Bay Area scene are on full, accurate, and coherent display. Forty years was a long time to wait.