The work of Sly and the Family Stone has been lauded by critics for decades, so a lengthy treatise about its importance is hardly in order here. If you are interested in reading a great essay about Sly, check out Greil Marcus’s book Mystery Train. Suffice it to say that this tremendously important multiracial group consummated a perfect marriage between rock and soul, becoming, in the process, a leading midwife to funk.
The Essential Sly and the Family Stone is the most comprehensive compilation of the band’s greatest work, and it contains the latest digitally remastered versions of the group’s best songs. With these facts in mind, I fully expected to endorse this new package, but if truth be told, I do not recommend buying it.
Remastering adds body or clarity to some of the nearly three dozen tracks here. However, it detracts from the sound of others. On some of the best early Sly recordings collected here, the remastering engineer cut the upper frequencies and boosted the midrange. This muddied the crisp, vibrant, lively sound of these classic records.
The booklet in this package, like those in other Essential two-disc sets released by Legacy, is all too brief. It contains only one short essay, and that article conveys no more information or insight than an entry in a music encyclopedia would.
The song selection here also raises some questions. This collection sensibly includes four more tracks from the seminal 1971 Sly album There’s A Riot Goin’ On than the most comprehensive single-disc Sly compilation, Anthology, does. However, aside from those four gems, there are only three essential tracks here that did not appear on Anthology: the band’s rollicking first single (“Underdog”, later covered by the Dirtbombs); a masterpiece of sing-songy paranoia (“Somebody’s Watching You”, later covered by Little Sister); and the massive funk jam that was Sly’s last hit with the Family Stone (“Loose Booty”, the basis for the Beastie Boys’ Shadrach).
To my ears, the remaining nine songs on The Essential Sly and the Family Stone that do not appear on Anthology sound more like filler than anything else. It would not be problematic to include these nine songs if they were grouped together on a separate disc, but they are not. As it stands, they disrupt the flow of the album. For this reason, Anthology is more enjoyable to listen to than The Essential Sly and the Family Stone is. Plus, Anthology poetically concludes with an essential recording not found on this compilation, Sly’s stunning version of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston’s “Qué Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be).”
My advice: steer clear of The Essential Sly and the Family Stone. Instead, use your cash to purchase Anthology and There’s A Riot Goin’ On .
// Notes from the Road
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