Ain't But the One Way was the last in a series of comeback albums attempted by an increasingly dispirited Sly Stone and ended up being his swan song. On the surface, it's a relatively poor Sly & the Family Stone album, one that only dedicated fans, completists, and the historically curious will want to seek out. So if you're just a casual Sly listener, steer clear! But if you do fall into that category of Sly fanatics curious about those hazy final days before the funk legend descended into semi-obscurity, you'll find some insight here if you put the album into its proper context. To backtrack for a moment and frame that context, remember that Sly had been struggling, both commercially and creatively, for years. Following a long dry spell, he left Epic and moved to Warner Brothers at the end of the '70s, resulting in Back on the Right Track (1979). That album didn't prove to be the comeback it was planned to be, and Sly then drifted toward Warner labelmate George Clinton, with whom he would plan his next comeback. If you dig into the credits of P-Funk songs of this early-'80s era such as "Funk Gets Stronger" (from Electric Spanking of War Babies, 1981) and "Hydraulic Pump" (Urban Dancefloor Guerillas, 1983), you'll note some co-writing credits for Sly. And if you attended some P-Funk concerts back then, you may have seen him open for Clinton and company. But when it came time to record Ain't But the One Way, problems arose. For one, Clinton had a serious falling out with Warner Brothers. Secondly, urban legend says Sly simply disappeared after half-recording these songs around 1980 or so, leaving the album in an uncompleted state for a while. Whatever the truth, Clinton's presence is indeed lacking here on Ain't But the One Way (despite evidence of a demo version of "Who in the Funk Do You Think You Are" later arising on the first volume of the odds-and-ends George Clinton's Family Series), and Warner did bring in producer Stewart Levine (Jazz Crusaders, Simply Red) to pull the album together for release. (Another urban legend claims that the cover photo of Sly dates back to Back on the Right Track, further proof perhaps that Sly was AWOL.) The resulting album confirms such speculation: in general, the songs are sketchy funk vamps along the lines of what Clinton and company were recording around that time, and the innumerable studio musicians and the overall stitched-together feel of the album do suggest Levine earned his production paycheck. In any event, there are some glimmers of Sly's genius here, albeit momentary glimmers. "Ha Ha, Hee Hee" is a gem -- a gentle ballad à la "Runnin' Away" with curiously cryptic lyrics -- while "Who in the Funk Do You Think You Are" stands out with a bracing guitar riff, if not much else too noteworthy going for it. Elsewhere, "High, Y'All" is an "I Wanna Take You Higher" rewrite, "Sylvester" is a spooky a cappella minute, "L.O.V.I.N.U." is a perky pop song, and yes, "You Really Got Me" is a run-through of the Kinks classic. Taken together, these songs amount to less than a solid album, let alone a good one, but as latter-day leftovers, they're fairly interesting glimpses into Sly's hazy descent into coked-out infamy. And as such, they're a little sad.
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier