The Stax Story

The legendary Memphis soul label Stax's legacy is well-represented by this four-CD box set, which manages to do what many similar box retrospectives don't. That is to provide a well-balanced overview of a genre of music that mixes the essential hits with many noteworthy yet lesser-known singles and rarities, coming about as close as possible to pleasing both the collector and the less intense soul fan. The first disc alone, subtitled "The Hits," takes care of the majority of the consensus classics most listeners would demand from such a box, including hits by Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the MGs, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, and Johnnie Taylor. Disc two and disc three chronologically survey lower-profile chart hits and flops, taking in additional material by all of the stars, as well as great songs that have escaped the net of oldies radio: William Bell's "You Don't Miss Your Water," Albert King's "Crosscut Saw," Mable John's "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)." Disc four is entirely devoted to live recordings, most by the company's biggest acts, that sometimes give a rawer sense of the performers' charisma than was evident on their studio efforts. Some pretty minor reservations might keep this box from getting awarded the highest possible score: some of the non-hit cuts aren't that exciting (particularly from the label's later years), the track annotation doesn't make it clear whether some of the live cuts were previously unreleased in any form, Booker T. & the MGs' "Hang 'Em High" is represented by a live 1993 reunion recording rather than the original hit single, and some good mid-level hits by the biggest Stax acts aren't here. Still, it's a very worthy summation of the label's highlights, augmented by detailed liner notes. ~ Richie Unterberger

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