Various Artists

Mastercuts: Bar Social

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Though they've been the finest British reissue label of the last 15 years, Mastercuts has often suffered from a straight-laced, occasionally boring thematic vision. It only takes so many volumes in a series like Classic Jazz Funk (or Classic Salsoul, or Classic Rare Groove) before heads begin spinning. Bar Social, a two-disc (slightly mixed) set, is one of the few non-stylistic Mastercuts releases, and easily the best. Bar Social deliberately mixes up radically different periods, though admittedly, the styles present all hew to post-soul dance (disco, hip-hop, house, rocksteady, and dub, downbeat). Listening to all 30 tracks, quite a few of the transitions make sense -- Nuyorican Soul into Roy Ayers, Roots Manuva into the Pharcyde, MJ Cole into St. Germain. Still, there are many more that shouldn't make sense, but do: Roots Manuva's ace hip-hop track "Witness (1 Hope)" barges right into the back of Yarborough & Peoples' "Don't Stop the Music"; rocksteady one-hit-wonders Althea and Donna give way to rap cartoonists Ugly Duckling; a great latter-day disco cut from Edwin Starr is followed by Leftfield's house classic "Release the Pressure." Bar Social isn't really mixed, it's just presented one track immediately after the other, in the best tradition of DJing in the pre-mixer days. Virtually every track rises to the level of a highlight, and the entire affair is most reminiscent of a classic disco-era venue like David Mancuso's Loft.

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