The Austin Chronicle

Texas Platters


Reviewed by Christopher Gray, May 4, 2007, Music

Sly & the Family Stone

The Collection (Sony/Columbia Legacy)

Dallas-born Sylvester "Sly" Stewart & the Family Stone – younger siblings Freddie on guitar and Rosie on keyboards, foil/eventual nemesis Larry Graham on bass, drummer Greg Errico, trumpetess Cynthia Robinson, and sax maniac Jerry Martini – exploded existing notions of popular music. For scholars who love a good riddle, Sony's expert 40th-anniversary remasters – overreaching, undercooked 1967 debut, A Whole New Thing, to 1974's inconsequential Small Talk – unfold layers of deep reflection and deeper grooves. New Thing is a James Brown exuberant prelude to '68's Dance to the Music, whose irresistible title track gave the Family Stone a template they revisited with diminishing returns through 1973's Fresh. Ignored then but now a signpost to and from their roots, Life followed with a hot stew of R&B ("Chicken"), psych-drenched party-funk ("Fun"), and lifestyle adjustments ("Jane Is a Groupee"). Stand! still stands tall with "I Want to Take You Higher" but betrays Sly's splintering psyche on "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey." He was a superstar with nowhere to go but down: ditching Graham, holing up in a Beverly Hills mansion, receding into drugs, and finally releasing '72's There's a Riot Goin' On. Slowed down, his quest for post-stardom identity mirrored black America's quest for post-Sixties purpose. Fresh sidestepped such weighty concerns with rubbery arrangements and swan songs "If You Want Me to Stay" and "Que Sera, Sera." Small Talk fizzles out in an illusion of domesticity and tranquility, even though the Beastie Boys salvaged enough of "Loose Booty" to make "Shadrach." Sly only wanted to take us higher, and he did, but by becoming postwar pop's Icarus in the process.

(A Whole New Thing; Dance to the Music) ***

(Life; Fresh) ***.5

(Stand; There's a Riot Goin' On) ****

(Small Talk) **

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