Vince Picks 5 Great Songs from Higher!
1) “If This Room Could Talk” – Drummer Greg Errico’s impossibly funky groove drives this song, which originally appeared on the band’s 1967 debut album A Whole New Thing. While much is made of Sly’s early 1970s forays into funk music, the band’s earliest recordings have a stronger since of melody and are funky without compromising the catchy hooks that gave the band a string of top-40 hits. The horn line gives the song its melody, and Larry Graham’s rumbling bass plays it almost completely straight without any syncopations and slaps that would characterize his later playing.
2) “I Cannot Make It” – This show showcases one of Sly & the Family Stone’s trademarks, its sharing of vocal duties. Sly, a criminally underrated singer, takes the soulful lead vocal while the call-and-response sections are filled in by a harmony of guitarist Freddie Stone, bassist Larry Graham, and backing vocalist Cynthia Robinson. Of note is Freddie Stone’s impeccable country-soul lead guitar licks which weave in and out of Errico’s bass drum and the blasting horn section. Sly’s plinking keys also give the song an added rhythmic touch.
3) “Feathers” – There are a number of very strong instrumentals in this four-disc set, and this is the strongest of them all. Freddie Stone’s guitar steals the show on this previously unissued track. His playing carries an undeniable Curtis Mayfield influence as it dashes in and out and expertly toys with dynamics. Towards the second half of the song Graham’s bass and Stone’s guitar play off of one another while Errico’s bass drum adds even more syncopated kick to this fine instrumental.
4) “Pressure” – Sly’s music could never be easily categorized. His early records were funky-soul and his later records were soulful funk, but he always had a penchant for straight top-40 pop music and even psychedelic rock. Freddie Stone’s opening riff sounds much closer to Jimi Hendrix than Steve Cropper or any soul guitarist of note. This song was recorded during the sessions for the band’s third album, Life, but this track was not released until the 2007 reissue. The call-and-response vocals between Sly and Rosie Stone are the highlight. It’s so nice to hear Rosie’s soulful rasp so prominently featured. The song fades out amidst a cacophony of weird vocal sounds that only Sly & the Family Stone would think of.
5) “In Time” – I absolutely must include a track of latter-period Sly. This song appears on the band’s 1973 album Fresh, arguably the last great record they would make. Sly’s classic rhythm section of Errico and Graham have been replaced, quite admirably, by bassist Rustee Allen and 22-year-old drummer Andy Newmark. Newmark’s drumming is much busier than Errico’s. His open hi-hat rhythms recall the Meters’ Zig Modeliste, and the tight, crisp muffle gives the song a much different feel. The melodic hooks are still present, but whereas songs like “Dance to the Music” had a pulsating urgency, “In Time” is lazier, slinkier and takes longer to get somewhere than early-period Sly & the Family Stone. Nevertheless, it’s guaranteed to get any dance floor moving.
Written by Vince Meserko. Tune into the Jookhouse every Saturday from 6-8pm on 90.7fm KJHK.