Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review of Sly & The Family Stone's Stand!

Sly & The Family Stone's Stand!On their fourth studio album, Sly & The Family Stone took listeners on a sonic joyride. Stand! (released in 1969) is bursting at the seams with innovative ideas, stellar musicianship and great songs. The band had recorded first-rate material prior to Stand!, but that still didn’t prepare listeners for this mind-blowing aural experience. Rock, funk, gospel, pop, soul, blues and psychedelia intersect on this raucous and exhilarating album. And what Sly & the Family Stone have created is truly a revelation.

First up is “Everyday People,” a pop-soul ditty that advocates tolerance and unity. The song’s construction is very simplistic. It starts with basic piano chords that are accompanied by a bouncy bass line and a steady mid-tempo beat. The intro is so poppy and simple that is sounds like it could be the opening for a song by a ‘60s bubblegum pop group like the Archies or the Lemon Pipers—that is until Sly’s soulful, heartfelt vocals kick in. The song has a nursery-rhyme feel to it but with strong gospel overtones; the high point of the song is its swelling, gospel-tinged chorus. “Everyday People” immediately hooked radio listeners and became one of the band’s biggest hits.

And on the opposite end of the album’s musical spectrum, there’s “Sex Machine,” a bluesy, funky shuffle of a groove. Clocking in at 13:46, “Sex Machine” allows the band members to cut loose and show off their chops. Larry Graham burns down the house with a scorching fuzz bass solo, and Sly tears it up with some trippy talk-box scatting on guitar. Also, his brother Freddie holds it down with a nasty Wah-wah guitar solo, and sax player Jerry Martini and drummer Greg Errico get their moments to shine.

The album also contains uplifting, inspirational songs, such as “Stand!” and “You Can Make It If You Try.” “Stand!” is a rousing black pride and counterculture anthem; it has some great horn lines from Martini and trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. “You Can Make It If You Try” has a fun, circusy vibe with Sly contributing a terrific calliope-like organ solo.

And let’s not forget “Sing A Simple Song,” a massive hydrogen-bomb funk assault. It begins with an effect that sounds like a vacuum cleaner being turned on and then jumps into the song proper with sister Rose belting out an impassioned soul cry to kick off the proceedings. The song percolates with highly syncopated funk that never lets up. And check out the amazing vocal layering on the bridge (the “doe rey me” section).

“I Want To Take You Higher,” is a ferocious rock track that rumbles with wild anarchic abandon. The song boasts some wicked horn play by Martini and Robinson and a killer harmonica solo served up by Sly. The band raised the roof with this cut at Woodstock.

And we go from “Higher,” to “Somebody’s Watching You,” a tune with a sweet and innocent-sounding vocal arrangement that belies the song’s slightly ominous lyrics. This song shows what an inventive and clever lyricist Sly was in his prime.

“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey” is a freakafied, in-your-face attack on racism. Sly brings back the talk-box on this blistering funk/rock cut. Near the song’s end, it sounds like the band has grooved into orbit.

On Stand! Sly further demonstrated his mastery in the recording studio and his musical versatility. He wrote, composed, arranged and produced every song on the album and pulled out all the stops with studio tricks and other sonic experiments. This album proved without a doubt that Sly & The Family Stone were one of the baddest, most innovative bands of any era in rock or soul music.

Download Stand! at Amazon

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