Various Artists

Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film

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As it is with the multiple Woodstock soundtrack albums, it's hard to keep up with what's on the soundtrack discs bearing the name Wattstax in the title, counting the two initial volumes that came out in the 1970s, and now this three-CD package. Making matters more confusing is how, as the title of this set infers, the albums mix music from the festival with music from, or somehow associated with, the film Wattstax (which had some scenes, musical and otherwise, that actually didn't take place at the Wattstax festival itself). And to make matters yet more confusing, Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film, for all its generous length, isn't simply a combination of the Wattstax music that appeared in the '70s on either Wattstax, The Living Word: Live Concert Music from the Original Movie Soundtrack or Wattstax: The Living Word, Vol. 2. A lot of tracks from those albums do appear on these three CDs, but some don't; plus, Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film adds 17 previously unreleased songs, as well as one (Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft") that previously appeared on Isaac Hayes at Wattstax. It's something of a head-hurting exercise to keep it all straight. But ultimately, the most important thing to bear in mind is that Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film is the best, and certainly most bountiful, of the Wattstax-spawned discs, though it's marred by the exclusion of some previously issued tracks from the other Wattstax releases.

Most of this was indeed recorded at the Wattstax festival on August 20, 1972, featuring live soul from many artists on the Stax label. Most of the best performances from the previous Wattstax iterations were retained, among them well-recorded selections by the Staple Singers (whose four songs include "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There"), Eddie Floyd (doing "Knock on Wood"), the Bar-Kays (whose nine-minute "Son of Shaft/Feel It" is a highlight), Albert King, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor (with an eight-minute "Steal Away"), the Emotions, and Rufus Thomas. Some of the best cuts, however, are found in the dynamic previously unreleased material by lesser-known Stax artists, like Louise McCord's "Better Get a Move On," Lee Sain's "Them Hot Pants," Little Sonny's funk-blues "Wade in the Water," the Newcomers' Jackson Five-like "Pin the Tail on the Donkey," and Mel & Tim's hit "Backfield in Motion." The addition of some gospel songs also reflects the breadth of music at the festival, though the gospel tunes aren't as inspiring as the soul ones. On the whole, it's an important document of some of the better, live-'70s soul recordings. Arguably, however, some of the less interesting, previously unissued songs, should have been excluded to make room for some tracks by Albert King, Johnny Taylor, and Little Milton that showed up on the two Wattstax, the Living Word volumes, but somehow didn't make it onto Music from the Wattstax Festival & Film.

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