Various Artists

Express Yourself: Soul In The 20th Century

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At first glance the track listing for this box of soul documenting R&B in the 20th century seems wildly erratic, out of chronological order, and jarring in transition. But closer inspection of the four discs reveals each one to deliver and unfold its presentation based on a theme. Disc one showcases the early roots of soul and R&B and its evolution from doo wop, jazz, gospel, and blues, eventually winding its way through the early years of funk and the Motown sound. Disc two is primed for the evolution of soul on the dancefloor, starting with Arthur Conley's stomping "Sweet Soul Music" and working its way into "No Diggety" by Blackstreet. It also makes well-deserved pit stops in Detroit for the later years of the Motown sound and the prime moments of the Memphis/Stax catalog before ushering straight into the disco era. Perhaps the best and most important disc in the box is the third, which focuses on the anthems that served as hymns for social change and civil rights during some of the 20th century's most potent and intense historic moments. Starting with "Dancing in the Street" (which was the anthem for many an angry rioter during the upheaval of Detroit in 1967), the 19-song survey also features Edwin Starr's "War," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," and the masters of the hip-hop social fight song, Public Enemy. Disc four showcases the evolution of the ballad, starting with some of the masters including Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, and the Temptations and working its way into contemporary and quiet storm territory. But no matter which disc you listen to, Express Yourself is chock-full of hits with little to no filler involved. It might not be the ultimate tutorial of soul music, but it's an excellent starting point for those just starting to discover the treasure trove that is African-American music in the 20th century.

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