Is it possible, after all these years, there’s more to the story of Sly and the Family Stone? Apparently so, as the groundbreaking interracial, mixed-gender, funk/soul/rock juggernaut left behind enough loose ends to fill these four CDs. Much of Higher! consists of mono masters of singles and album tracks, some significantly different (more punch, less air) than their stereo counterparts, others not. Hardcore fans jonesing for the mono masters of 1967’s “Dance to the Music” or ’71’s “Luv N’ Haight” now know where to find them, and key (if marginal) album tracks from throughout the group’s run round out the track list.

But the real fun—as is often the case with such comprehensive collections—is in discovering that which was previously unknown. Sly Stone and company recorded prolifically, especially early in their career, and what’s surprising—or maybe not, considering the level of talent—is that virtually none of the cutting-room-floor material feels slight or tossed off. Of the four previously unreleased tracks on disc one, “I Remember” proves particularly monumental, as bars of naked vocals and lonesome gospel organ alternate with blaring psychedelic soul-rock. “Wonderful World of Color” and “Feathers,” a pair of 1968 instrumentals found on disc three, are the work of a band capable of writing crisp arrangements and yet wailing with abandon when they felt like it. A sprinkling of live tracks reinforces the notion that this was one of the most dynamic performing outfits ever, and a handful of Sly’s ’64-’65 pre-Family Stone singles suggest big ideas were already percolating in the mind of the genius then known as Sylvester Stewart. –Jeff T.


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