Various Artists

Old School Soul Party

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Another entry in Shout! Factory's ongoing series of triple-CD box compilations promoted on PBS, this one is more cohesively presented. Sequenced to flow like a typical party, the discs of this predominantly '70s-era 58-track R&B collection are divided into three connected parts. Starting with the high-energy sounds of Wild Cherry's one-hit wonder "Play That Funky Music," disc one (subtitled "Kickin' It Off") continues with tough funk hits from Cameo, Rick James, Parliament, and James Brown. Mercifully dodging the disco bullet save for Donna Summer's "Last Dance," this nonstop funkathon platter is alone worth the price of admission. Adding different sounds such as the Undisputed Truth's slightly trippy "Smiling Faces Sometimes" and the Beginning of the End's tropical "Funky Nassau" successfully serves to shift the style but not the mood. Disc two ("Getting' into the Groove") lightens the groove moderately as melody and pop become more emphasized on Cheryl Lynn's "Got to Be Real," the Friends of Distinction's "Love or Let Me Be Lonely," Gene Chandler's "Groovy Situation," and Ashford & Simpson's "Solid." These are all well-chosen selections that were substantial hits, but not as ubiquitous as the Isley Brothers' "That Lady, Pts. 1-2," a tune that always seems to find its way onto '70s soul collections such as this. Disc three ("Dimmin' the Lights") moves into slow and sensual post-party fare with 19 quiet storm smooth jams from artists such as the Five Stairsteps ("O-o-h Child"), Minnie Riperton ("Lovin' You"),the Chi-Lites ("Have You Seen Her"), and Marvin Gaye ("Sexual Healing"). The schlock factor is obviously higher here, but all the songs are Top Ten R&B and/or pop hits and will spark instant recognition from those this box is intended for. The remastered sound is crisp and sparkling throughout, bringing out these oldies' subtleties -- especially with percussion -- that you might not have heard before. While not definitive, the set accomplishes its mission of replaying the soundtrack to a colorful late-'70s urban shindig. More than a haphazard collection of oldies, this conceptual box boasts a well-defined focus, a unique programming flow, and of course lots of soul.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 4:57
2 4:27
3 3:55
4 5:45
5 4:05
6 3:06
7 4:18
8 4:02
9 7:39
10 2:53
11 6:57
12 3:14
13 3:22
14 3:46
15 3:12
16 3:23
18 3:17
19 3:43
blue highlight denotes track pick