Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: 'Soulsville U.S.A.: A Celebration of Stax'

How do you condense fifteen years of arguably the most important soul label (and Motown is the only reason it’s arguable) down to 60 songs? The new triple-disc comp Soulsville U.S.A.:  A Celebration of Stax has the pluck to answer this question, and the answer is “as best as you can.” The label’s most vital artists—among them: Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers, William Bell, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Isaac Hayes, Eddie Floyd, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, the immortal Otis Redding—are present with their very best-known records. You don’t have to check the track listing to know that “Dock of the Bay”, “Soul Man”, “Walking the Dog”, “Theme from Shaft”, “Green Onions”, Mr. Big Stuff”, “Knock on Wood”, “Gee Whiz”, Ill Take You There”, and “Soul Finger” are on board, which is the best one can hope for when a CD set has to take on what Soulsville U.S.A. takes on. Just be sure to manage your expectations when hunting out your favorite oddities, because the ones I had my fingers crossed for—The Astors’ “In the Twilight Zone”, Wendy Rene’s “Bar B-Q”, Rufus’s “Jump Back”, to name a few—didn’t make the cut. But that’s just a testament to the greatness of the rawest, wildest soul label, because capturing its greatness in any completely satisfying way can only be accomplished by a massive undertaking like the 28-disc Complete Stax/Volt Singles Collection series. As far as distillations go, Soulsville U.S.A. completes the task with an unbreakable parade of essential hits and powerful sound (loud but not quite brick-walled) that keeps it mono until well into 1968.
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