Various Artists

Messin' with Sly: Imitations, Interpolations and the Inspiration of Sly Stone

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With the obvious exception of James Brown, there are few artists who broke more ground in R&B and paved the way for funk with greater imagination than Sly Stone. Between 1967 and 1971, Stone wrote and recorded music that was exciting, innovative, thoughtful, and challenging, and even managed to have hits at the same time, a testament both to the talent of Stone and his superb band as well as the willingness of audiences to embrace something so innovative during that heady time. So it makes perfect sense that someone would want to assemble a Sly Stone tribute album; what doesn't make so much sense is the way Le Smoke Disque have gone about paying their respects to Sly. Messin' wth Sly: Imitations, Interpolations and the Inspiration of Sly Stone pulls together 16 covers of classic jams from Sly's songbook, many of which appear to have been chosen for their eccentricity and obscurity rather than any intrinsic merit. There's a certain novelty in hearing He 6, a South Korean garage band, perform stripped-down and rhythmically challenged versions of "Stand!," "Sing a Simple Song," and "Dance to the Music," but they don't do much to reflect what was great about the originals. Not one but two high-school ensembles pop up here, generating nostalgia for the days of strong school music programs, and the rough recording of "Are You Ready?" by the obscure L.A. Carnival at least confirms the existence of funk in Nebraska during the early '70s. Gougoush were an R&B act from Iran, but even though their recording of "I Want to Take You Higher" is historically and sociologically interesting, they sound more like a lounge act than a fierce funk unit. And the consistently off-pitch vocals on Jimmy Stone's cover of "Family Affair" make mincemeat of one of Stone's most powerful songs. For every moment on Messin' with Sly that sounds like a sincere and well-executed homage to one of the great men of R&B, there are at least two that are curious, baffling, or simply embarrassing; collectors of confounding obscurities will be intrigued, but anyone else is advised to pull a copy of There's a Riot Goin' On out of the crate instead.

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