Various Artists

Stax of Funk

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Stax compilations that zero in on the label's final phase in the late '60s and early '70s can often disappoint as too slickly produced, or lacking in strong original material. Stax of Funk makes a welcome switch to the company's harder-edged, funk-based material from the era, much of it pretty obscure, whether it's by well-known artists or not. There are a bunch of familiar names on this 21-cut-strong comp, including Rufus Thomas, the Bar Kays, Kim Weston, Jean Knight, the Sweet Inspirations, and Inez Foxx, although they're outweighed by the less renowned ones. Those include a couple of figures you wouldn't automatically peg as funksters: Roy Lee Johnson, more famous as the Dr. Feelgood who did the original version of the Beatles' "Mr. Moonlight," and film director Melvin Van Peebles. Regardless of the collectability of the originals, this is quality soul-funk, with more song-oriented and pop-friendly leanings than much funk, though not so much so as to dilute the grit. Some of the stronger numbers include Knight's "Do Me," something of a womanly counterpoint to Bill Withers' "Use Me"; Bobby Holley's James Brown-ish "Movin' Dancer"; Kim Weston's "Brothers and Sisters (Get Together)," with the vogueish, socially conscious soul lyrics of the early 1970s; Little Sonny's "Eli's Pork Chop," which puts his blues harmonica to a funk beat without sounding like a gimmick; and Harvey Scales' "Broadway Freeze," which offers more James Brown-isms. The collection's unequivocally recommended to both funk and Stax fans. [This U.K. import is not available for sale in North America.]

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