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Stax/Volt Singles, Vol. 4: New and Eclectic Surprises from the Vaults

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In 1991, I didn't even have a CD player. But I well remember the significance of the the nine CD set, The Complete Stax/Volt Singles: 1959-1968. Certainly I and others were already aware of the label and studio, whose half-ruined buildings were once a common sight on McLemore Avenue, but to have the Stax output so comprehensively curated and presented with beautiful period photos and historical data was a revelation. I promptly pirated my friend's copy onto stacks of cassettes that I proceeded to wear out for decades.

That collection was soon followed by volumes two and three, cumulatively reviewing nearly all the acclaimed and not-so-acclaimed, soul A-sides that made Stax and its affiliated imprints famous. But even after filling 28 discs across those three volumes, there was more material left.

Which brings us to Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities & The Best Of The Rest, a 6-CD box set released today that delves even deeper into the Stax Records archives. This new addition offers a more profound study of the Memphis label's catalog, including long-forgotten B-sides and rarities, and offering a cross-section of rock, pop, blues, gospel and country recordings from 1960-1975, in addition to the soul Stax was known for. Like previous volumes, the collection includes a well-illustrated booklet, offering four new in-depth essays by music journalist Lee Hildebrand, writer and producer Alec Palao, box set co-producer Bill Belmont, and Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story Of Stax Records (and producer of Vol. 4's discs 1-3).

This set was the work of Craft Recordings, a division of Concord Music, featuring recordings from the catalogs of both Craft and Rhino Entertainment, who jointly control Stax's masters. But that barely hints at the number of labels, artists, and genres associated with Stax represented here, including rock (from Ardent, Enterprise and Hip), gospel (Chalice, Gospel Truth) and country (Enterprise), not to mention sould from both Volt and Satellite, which are more often recognized as Stax labels. With previously unreleased material from over 60 artists, including Carla and Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Big Star, the Bar-Kays, Jean Knight, Don Nix, the Rance Allen Group, and Johnnie Taylor, the collection highlights just how much talent was working in Memphis over those years. And, keeping in mind that these are largely B-sides, it shows how consistently such legends produced high quality tracks.

Often, it was the idiosyncrasies — a turn of phrase, a guitar effect, or an unfamiliar chord change — that made these B-sides in the first place. Today, it's precisely these qualities that make the tracks fascinating. Some of them resemble more familiar hits, but with a twist, as in the Dixie Nightingales chilling work on Chalice, “The Assasination,” which slows down the MG's “Soul Dressing” (recorded earlier the same year) in a new arrangement that makes for a haunting lament. We can also hear two different vocalists take on the same song, as with competing versions of “Why Did it Take So Long” by both Chuck Boris and Barbara Lewis (spoiler alert: Lewis won). Or, we hear familiar players under different names, e.g., The Cobras, who were in fact another kind of Mar-Keys, including Steve Cropper, Donald Dunn and Terry Johnston, and whose “Shake Up” is garage-groove gold, the original vinyl no doubt coveted by many a DJ.

The stylistic sprawl, in contrast to earlier volumes' focus on soul, better conjures the times these records were made in. Pop music ascended through the 60s and 70s on many fronts, and the Stax family was trying its hand on all of them. Disc 4 ranges from Sid Selvidge's impressionistic “The Ballad of Otis B. Watson” to tunes from jazz singer Billy Eckstine's attempt at a reboot (where he sounds like nothing so much as David Bowie singing straight soul — in a good way). It's fitting that the Enterprise imprint, which Bill Belmont claims was named by Al Bell after the Star Trek vessel, in the same spirit of exploration, released both of those artists, as well as black country star O.B. McClinton, bluesy groove rock from Don Nix, and boogie woogie pop from Larry Raspberry.

Of course, the king of Enterprise was Isaac Hayes. His evolution is well-illustrated here, both in releases under his name, and in the growing sophistication of other soul singles written or produced by him. As with the other volumes, one hears soul music searching out new sonic territories as Stax ventures into the 70s. But it may be the gospel disc that offers the most musical surprises. Unconstrained by the conventional expectations of pop radio, gospel writers and arrangers filled their tracks with truly intriguing rhythmic and harmonic shifts. And the gospel disc's toughest grooves reveal where much of secular soul's pop innovations sprang from.

Finally, we all know Big Star by now, but disc five puts their work in the context of other power pop and rock groups from the time. Ranging from heavy blues grooves by Billy Lee Riley, to straight-up blue eyed soul from Bobby Whitlock, to hippie jams reminiscent of Vanilla Fudge from the Honey Jug and the Village Sound, they sound especially odd adjacent to, say, the Goodies girl group soul revival sound, as they sing wistfully, “He was sweet, he was kind/And the goodies are still on my mind/He showed me the goodies...” Okay, ladies! The disc wraps up with nascent power pop of Cargoe, the Hot Dogs, and, of course, Big Star. Completists of the latter's work will hear a different take used for the “In the Street” single, and edited versions of “O My Soul” and “Setember Gurls.” And one hears these songs with fresh ears in this context, as pop singles that someone, somewhere, felt had a shot at a larger market. As it turned out, they were only a few decades off.

These are just a few of the surprises tucked away in this box set. If you spring for a copy, be forewarned: preconceived notions of Stax, or the boundaries between soul music and the other genres of the day, are in danger of being cast away.

Track List:

Disc 1:
1. Carla & Rufus: Deep Down Inside
2. Rufus And Friend: Yeah, Yea-Ah
3. Prince Conley: All The Way
4. The Canes: I'll Never Give Her Up
5. The Astors: Just Enough To Hurt Me
6. Eddie Kirk: I Found A Brand New Love
7. Rufus Thomas: Fine And Mellow
8. Booker T. & The Mg's: Fannie Mae
9. Floyd Newman: Sassy
10. Rufus Thomas: I Want To Get Married
11. Bobby Marchan: That's The Way That It Goes
12. The Cobras: Shake Up
13. Barbara And The Browns: You Belong To Her
14. Dorothy Williams: Watchdog
15. Baracudas: Free For All
16. Barbara And The Browns: I Don't Want Trouble
17. Gorgeous George: Sweet Thing
18. The Astors: I Found Out
19. Rufus & Carla Thomas: We're Tight
20. Rufus Thomas: Chicken Scratch
21. Ruby Johnson: Weak Spot
22. Rufus Thomas: Talkin' Bout True Love
23. Mable John: If You Give Up What You Got (You'll See What You Lost)
24. Sam And Dave: A Small Portion Of Your Love
25. Ruby Johnson: Keep On Keeping On
26. Rufus Thomas: Greasy Spoon
27. Mable John: Left Over Love
28. Ollie & The Nightingales: Girl, You Have My Heart Singing
29. Mable John: Don't Get Caught

Disc 2:
1. Shirley Walton: I'm So Glad You're Back
2. Delaney & Bonnie: We've Just Been Feeling Bad
3. Linda Lyndell: I Don't Know
4. Judy Clay & William Bell: Love-Eye-Tis
5. Judy Clay: Remove These Clouds
6. The Staple Singers: Stay With Us
7. Rufus Thomas: So Hard To Get Along With
8. Jeanne & The Darlings: I Like What You're Doing To Me
9. Booker T. & The Mg's: Over Easy
10. Mable John: Shouldn't I Love Him
11. William Bell & Judy Clay: Left Over Love
12. Jimmy Hughes: Sweet Things You Do
13. Art Jerry Miller: Grab A Handful
14. Eddie Floyd: Consider Me
15. Booker T. & The Mg's: Soul Clap '69
16. Jeanne & The Darlings: Standing In The Need Of Your Love
17. The Bar-Kays: I Thank You
18. The Soul Children: Make It Good
19. Ollie & The Nightingales: I'll Be Your Everything
20. William Bell: Let Me Ride
21. Booker T. & The Mg's: Sunday Sermon
22. Carla Thomas: Hi De Ho (That Old Sweet Roll)
23. Shack: A Love Affair That Bears No Pain
24. The Nightingales: Just A Little Overcome
25. The Newcomers: Mannish Boy

Disc 3:
1. Ilana: Let Love Fill Your Heart
2. The Soul Children: Ridin' On Love's Merry-Go-Round
3. Hot Sauce: I Can't Win For Losing
4. Lee Sain: Ain't Nobody Like My Baby
5. Hot Sauce: Echoes From The Past
6. The Mad Lads: Did My Baby Call
7. Isaac Hayes & David Porter: Baby I'm-A Want You
8. Jean Knight: Pick Up The Pieces
9. Johnnie Taylor: Stop Teasing Me
10. Isaac Hayes: Type Thang
11. John Gary Williams: In Love With You
12. Major Lance: Since I Lost My Baby's Love
13. Hot Sauce: Mama's Baby (Daddy's Maybe)
14. The Soul Children: Poem On The School House Door
15. Rufus Thomas: That Makes Christmas Day
16. The Staple Singers: What's Your Thing
17. Shirley Brown: Yes Sir Brother
18. Hot Sauce: Funny
19. Frederick Knight: Let's Make A Deal
20. The Green Brothers: Can't Give You Up (I Love You Too Much)
21. John Gary Williams: Just Ain't No Love (Without You Here)

Disc 4:
1. Sid Selvidge: The Ballad Of Otis B. Watson
2. The Caboose: Black Hands White Cotton
3. Dallas County: Love's Not Hard To Find
4. Casper Peters: April
5. Clark Sullivan: Reaching For A Rainbow
6. Billy Eckstine: I Wanna Be Your Baby
7. Chuck Boris: Why Did It Take So Long
8. Barbara Lewis: Why Did It Take So Long
9. Finley Brown: Gypsy
10. O.B. Mcclinton: Slip Away
11. Billy Eckstine: When Something Is Wrong
12. Ben Atkins: Good Times Are Coming
13. River City Street Band: Some Other Man
14. O.B. Mcclinton: Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You
15. Big Ben: Would I Be Better Gone?
16. Don Nix: Black Cat Moan
17. Don Nix: She's A Friend Of Mine
18. Larry Raspberry And The Highsteppers: Rock 'N Roll Warning
19. Chico Hamilton: Conquistadores '74
20. Cliff Cochran: The Way I'm Needing You
21. Connie Eaton: Let's Get Together
22. Karen Casey: The Way I'm Needing You

Disc 5:
1. Poor Little Rich Kids: Stop - Quit It
2. Lonnie Duvall: Cigarettes
3. Poor Little Rich Kids: It's Mighty Clear
4. The Honey Jug: Warm City Baby
5. The Goodees: For A Little While
6. The Honey Jug: For Your Love
7. Kangaroo's: Groovy Day
8. Bobby Whitlock: And I Love You
9. Southwest F.O.B.: Smell Of Incense
10. The Goodees: Condition Red
11. Billy Lee Riley: Family Portrait
12. This Generation: The Children Have Your Tongue
13. Billy Lee Riley: Show Me Your Soul
14. The Waters: Day In And Out
15. The Village Sound: Hey Jack (Don't Hijack My Plane)
16. The Cheques: Cool My Desire
17. The Goodees: Goodies
18. Paris Pilot: Miss Rita Famous
19. The Knowbody Else: Someone Something
20. Cargoe: Feel Alright
21. Big Star: In The Street
22. Cargoe: I Love You Anyway
23. The Hot Dogs: Say What You Mean
24. Big Star: O My Soul
25. The Hot Dogs: I Walk The Line
26. Big Star: September Gurls

Disc 6:
1. The Dixie Nightingales: The Assassination
2. The Dixie Nightingales: Hush Hush
3. The Dixie Nightingales: I Don't Know
4. The Stars Of Virginia: Wade In The Water
5. The Dixie Nightingales: Forgive These Fools
6. The Jubilee Hummingbirds: Our Freedom Song (Free At Last)
7. The Jubilee Hummingbirds: Press My Dying Pillow
8. The Pattersonaires: God's Promise
9. Rev. Maceo Woods And The Christian Tabernacle Baptist Church Choir: Hello Sunshine
10. Roebuck "Pop" Staples: Tryin' Time
11. Terry Lynn Community Choir: His Love Will Always Be
12. Reverend W. Bernard Avant Jr. & The St. James Gospel Choir: Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You (Don't Let The Devil Fool You)
13. The Rance Allen Group: There's Gonna Be A Showdown
14. The Rance Allen Group: That Will Be Good Enough For Me
15. Reverend Maceo Woods & The Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir: The Magnificent Sanctuary Band (Marching For The Man)
16. Louise Mccord: Better Get A Move On
17. Charles May & Annette May Thomas: Satisfied
18. The Rance Allen Group: I Got To Be Myself
19. The People's Choir Of Operation Push Under The Direction Of Reverend Marvin Yancy: He Included Me
20. The Rance Allen Group: We're The Salt Of The Earth
21. Louise Mccord: Reflections
22. The Rance Allen Group: Ain't No Need Of Crying


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