Album Review: Higher! [Box Set] by Sly & the Family Stone
Exceptionally Good, Based on 6 Critics
AllMusic - 100 Based on rating 10/10
At the peak of their career, Sly & the Family Stone topped the charts with a Greatest Hits album -- in 1970, it was their first LP to crack the Billboard Top 200, peaking at number two; an argument could be made that it was the LP that cemented their stardom -- and over the years, they've been anthologized many times, almost each compilation worthwhile, but they've never been subjected to a comprehensive box set until Legacy's 2013 four-disc set Higher! (A 2007 box called The Collection doesn't count, as it just rounded up the expanded remasters of the group's Epic catalog. ) Higher! succeeds because it performs a task many box sets do not: it tells a story. Placing an emphasis on narrative, sometimes achieved through rarities, does mean that there are some omissions here: "Fun," "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey," studio versions of "Stand" and "You Can Make It If You Try," "Just Like a Baby," "Babies Making Babies," and the 1975 version of "I Get High on You" are all absent, but as the box plays, they're not missed, as the story that is told is compelling.
Sly & the Family Stone can be easily found in just about every possible context-- soundtracks, oldies radio, hip-hop sample standards, 60s festival documentaries, lists of essential albums, and the annals of genre-building funk pioneers, for starters. Yet there's something strangely elusive about them, owing not the least to Sly Stone's decades-long battle with his own public presence. The Cliff's Notes version of introductory pop music history tends to focus on only two albums: 1969's Stand!, their breakthrough smash filled with material that they'd work out at Woodstock, and 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On, a masterpiece of spotlight-panic resistance that heralded the decline of their crowdpleasing tendencies and the rise of funk as the decade's most innovative pop-music laboratory.
A fusionist from the get-go, with an outsize, mixed-race-and-gender band, Sly Stone was less interested in genre blurring than in the hot glory of multiple styles played simultaneously. Check his 1964 solo jam "Scat Swim," a surf-pop instrumental with raw blues licks and jazzbo vocalese. It's a highlight of this four-CD box, the richest overview yet of maybe the most visionary funk operation in pop history.
Don’t be fooled by the picture on the box: that crouching, grinning, mischievous Sylvester Stewart is but one aspect of The Family Stone. There was always a darker, murkier group beneath the colourful clothes and zeitgeist slogans. You want to look at one of the most influential funk groups of all time? Sure, go ahead. But note: while George Clinton was indebted to Sly for his music – P-Funk’s genesis is there in the 1967 and ’68 Family Stone album cuts Trip To Your Heart and Into My Own Thing – he also picked up his hero’s freebasing addiction.
Sly and the Family StoneHigher!(Epic/Legacy)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars This long overdue boxed recap of Sly Stone’s most creative period, released on the event of his 70th birthday, is a sprawling, lavishly appointed and elaborately detailed, 10 inch large, four disc set that covers his output from 1964-’77. The 104 page book with an abundance of rare photos, concert bills, picture sleeve reproductions of 45s and specifics on each of the 77 tracks (17 previously unreleased) justifies the near $60 list price. This is the kind of detailed, extravagantly organized and crafted coffee table addition you didn’t think major labels bothered to release anymore.
Sly & the Family Stone Higher! (Epic/Legacy) Sly Stone's infamous reclusiveness obscures the fact that the Denton native, upon his musical maturation in Southern California, casually spat in the face of racial barriers and remade soul-hued twist & shout music so well that, when Columbia A&R man David Kapralik first requested something big, Stone laid down the directive "Dance to the Music" – his initial Top 10 hit. "Let's not think nothing," he pleads around 1971's There's a Riot Goin' On. "Let's just go play." When that held true, Stone pushed gold.