Various Artists

Blaxploitation, Vol. 1

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This title of this generous two-CD anthology is a bit of a misnomer: While it includes several blaxploitation film themes, it is much more than just a strict genre compilation. Although there are the expected soundtrack picks like "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes and "Superfly" by Curtis Mayfield, this album also includes plenty of non-soundtrack items to create a convincing urban atmosphere. The producers wisely layer in some interesting obscurities along with the obvious choices, and this helps to keep things fresh and interesting. Some of the unexpected highlights in the soul arena include Esther Phillips' intense but controlled reading of the Gil Scott-Heron message song "Home Is Where the Hatred Is" and Bootsy Collins' "I'd Rather Be With You," a lovely ballad that reins in his tendency for cartoon wackiness to create a moody and genuinely romantic atmosphere. There are also plenty of extended jazz-funk selections like "Expansions" by Lonnie Liston Smith and Deodato's famous remake of "Also Sprach Zarathustra," which keep the good grooves rolling as they enhance the compilation's soundtrack feel. If there is a downside to the compilation, it is that the different styles of music it contains are not mixed together in a balanced fashion. For instance, three lengthy jazz fusion cuts all play out back to back on the first disc; they might have been more effective if interspersed with some of the vocal-oriented tracks. Just the same, this an admirable package that effectively blends favorites and left-field choices to create a distinctive musical experience. A slick booklet, which mixes pictures of the artists with cheeky yet informative liner notes and photos designed to resemble blaxploitation film stills, rounds the package out nicely. Anyone with an interest in the classic soul sounds of the 1970s should definitely check Blaxploitation.

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