Review of Sly and The Family Stone’s 4-CD box set ‘Higher’

Sly and the Family Stone
Epic/Legacy (4 CDs)

By Gillian G. Gaar

This is the first box set to provide a broad overview of Sly and the Family Stone’s career. (The 2007 box set “The Collection” featured expanded editions of the group’s first seven albums.) And there are plenty of rarities here to whet the appetite of any Stone fan, including 17 previously unreleased tracks.

First up come five tracks from Stone’s pre-Family Stone days, when he released records under the names Sly, Sly Stewart and Sly and Freddie. “I Just Learned How to Swim” is a surf-rock dance tune, while “Buttermilk, Pt. 1” shows off his versatility, as he plays all of the instruments on this largely instrumental track.

Sly and the Family Stone HigherThere are also two previously unreleased numbers from the Family Stone’s appearance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival; the previously released songs from the Festival are included, as well. And the early singles, through 1969’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” are all presented in mono.

The box covers the time period of 1964-77. What’s especially nice is that the liner notes annotate every song. It’s fascinating reading, with comments coming from the band members and close associates (Stone on “Dance to the Music”: “I never thought it was funky. And to this day, I don’t think it is funky at all”). Listening to the tracks, one is reminded that Stone’s music was not just unique in how it combined rock, soul and funk.

There was another element not always present in those genres: a sense of humor. It’s an ingredient that gives the music an additional dose of humanity — a major reason why Sly and the Family Stone have remained popular over the years.

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