& the Family Stone
Luv & Haight
From the start this thing is full of wah and round, warm, low end. The sweet soul of Sly and the background girls, the group Little Sister, bring us in with some nice building “ahhs” before we slide right in to that repeated refrain that is so far from the previous message of Dance to the Music.
The gentle horn swells of the bridge take the energy “Higher” as the increasing wall of wah chases its tail and the girls come back in
The voices bounce
back and forth, left and right from the overdubbed background singers
and it puts the perfect psychedelic touch on this slow burner. And
what a slow burning groove it is, if that’s Sly on drums, he
fucking kills it. The style seems a bit different from what we had
heard from Errico up to this point. The beat switches up from a steady
funky shuffle to a wild, yet somehow very mellow, almost Mitch Mitchell
Just Like A Baby
Sweet, soulful, multi layered keyboards move this slinky shuffle. Sly lets us know that sometimes he cries and can tell when you lie, “just like a baby.” The silky smooth vocals from Sly (probably laying on his back in the studio as the story goes) just kill along with his tasteful keyboard licks. The low end really pulses along on this one and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is one of the tracks that Larry Graham actually played on. We are treated to a bridge of layer upon layer of Sly moaning from somewhere in outer space while another Sly, sounding like the drainage from days and days of major coke use are catching up to him as growls out to us from a little more forward in the mix. The tape hiss, emotion and pure grittiness of this let you almost feel the high along with Sly.
A bit of real drums start this one with some funky clavinet. Sly lets us know his only weapon is his pen, he’s a songwriter. At some point the rhythm king drum machine has faded into the mix along with the live drums and some wandering low end that is likely Sly. Then a bit of chicken scratch guitar sneaks up on you and you’re bobbing your head before you even know its there. Is that Bobby Womack on guitar? Who knows who’s truly playing on each track. Other than Sister Rosie and Cynthia, not much of the Family Stone was involved in the recording of this album. Not only Bobby Womack, but Ike Turner, Billy Preston and even Miles Davis its said was involved at some point in the recording. Layer upon layer of keyboard again bounce left and right as the steady pulse of the drum machine and live drum mix fades out.
to the hit of the record. This was their final number one hit in the
states. Sister Rosie’s smooth, far away vocals lead us into
this pseudo adult contemporary drum machine & electric piano groove.
Sly’s low vocals are almost like he’s talking to you,
so matter of fact, so close in the mix. Then that sweet guitar and
keyboard interplay of the bridge before the second verse, such a nice
touch for a little change up in the song. Sly’s vocals sound
strained and pained both physically and emotionally yet he still delivers
them strongly and with conviction. And that closing scream is so primal,
yet restrained at the same time.
Africa Talks to you
A little drum machine, a lot of wah and some warm, thumping bass before we drop in some live high hat, snare and kick. Genius for the time. Its not hard to make the leap from what's going on specifically in this song to what Prince has done for most of his career. We have Sly in a falsetto voice, the drum machine mixed with live drums, funky bass, chicken scratch guitar, both women and men singing choruses and the guttural soul screams. The layered vocals in the verse are truly amazing as you can pick out each voice specifically but as soon as you do it seems to fade back out as other voices take over. A very nice studio trick done to perfection. As the mellow groove slinks along Sly begins the refrain of Timberrrrrrr, Timberrrr along with layers of moaning, screaming and scatting through even more wah. The interplay of the guitar and the many many keyboards layered in adds some needed dimension to what would be an otherwise long and monotonous song.
Is this song too
long? Yes. Does is get a little repetitive? Yes. Should they have
trimmed or cut it? NO WAY! There are many things that may go on a
little too long or maybe shouldn’t have been tried on the album,
but the sum of its parts is genius and to cut any of it would take
from the mood and what I think is the intended emotional response
to this music especially in 1971, after the type of hits Sly had enjoyed
prior to this. Every second of this album makes a statement.
minutes of wandering around the same groove with so many layers of
voices, keyboards, guitars and bass your head will spin, Sly joins
us again from outer space with more scat singing through the wah.
We fade out of the groove which is actually more like nodding out
as the track comes to a close and takes us into the title track of
There’s A Riot Goin On
Odd, high brow, clever, mistake? You choose. It’s a few seconds of silence.
Inside Gate Fold
Brave and Strong
Brave and Strong
starts us off with some thumpy bass and drum machine with a little
live drumming mixed in and switches it up to just live drums for the
verses. The horns stabs here and there actually feel a little out
of place with the lack of horns elsewhere on the album. Still, there
is an almost James brown feel to the bass and horns here, as well
as the lyrics. For me, if I had to pick a weak point of the record,
this would be it. But it's still fun.
You Caught Me Smilin
Some nice keyboard
and guitar interplay leads us in to the smooth chorus of this mellow
song that turns up the groove as you go. The almost lazy background
vocals are perfect for the contrast into the bridge where very funky
guitar and bass lock into some licks that force you to make the nasty
face and bob that head. The smooth chorus comes back with its sweeping,
mellow bass and delicate voices before Sly screams us into another
funky funky funky bridge section. Complete with wah horns, and more
thick layers of keyboard, bass and guitar.
Perhaps Sly felt
time getting away from him or maybe it was something else but his
vocal delivery on this is very up front in the mix and clear as if
we need to pay attention to what he's saying. And it’s a serious
matter in this song. Life will go on as well as time and Sly seems
to want to be outside of both of these things. The way his vocals
almost flow out of time with this slow blues is a thing of beauty.
And the growls pull you in deeper, deeper into the slow drum machine
groove hiding in the background. Then it all fades….
Deep funky bass along with whisking, swishing drum machine beats and live drums propel this mid tempo tune along nicely. The keyboards fade in and bring us in to that familiar Riot territory, and the almost whisper of sly’s voice imply he’s calling to us from space again. An aptly named song I suppose.
About that spaced
yodeling, you love it or hate it I suppose. For my money, I love it.
It goes on a bit but the way Sly toys with the phrasing and delivery
as the song plods along keep it fun. The harmonica is very reminiscent
of previous Sly featured solos and again does not disappoint. Classic
loved Cynthia’s french horn part in this song. It has an almost
tv theme song sound to it but it works as a nice feature for Cynthia’s
horn playing. Sister Rosie’s vocals are up front and sound great
as ever. Eventually you hear what might be Sly backing up on vocals
but actually sounds a bit more like Larry Graham to me. The bridge
is truly beautiful with some layered French horn lines that alternate
with the vocals before we get a fantastic, full-on, multi tracked
horn solo over some thumping bass. This is another song that sounds
like Larry Graham on bass and possibly Errico on drums as they are
funky and live sounding all the way through.
Thank You For Talking To Me Africa
The slowed down, evil twin to Thank you (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again). This thing plods, slinks, warps and funks along for an eternity. More hard, thumping bass with lots of funky guitar licks thrown over the top that bounce left and right. Live drums pump us along before layer after layer of vocals sings the lyrics of Thank You as if through a thick layer of smoke, junk and time. The drums drop out for the chorus as the bass thumps along even harder to keep the beat going. Space Sly gives one of his patented screams from the netherworld and the drums fall back into place right where they left off. Sly upon Sly sing the chorus to Thank you. A bit of Little Sister and probably Cynthia thank us as well. The drums never falter as they slowly keep the boom chick boom chick plodding along at the pace of a very heavy trip. Sly ends with the line
A fitting end
to a truly unique and groundbreaking album at the time it came out.
Over all the sound of this first pressing is thick and full. The recording
itself is interesting in that you can hear punch ins at times. There
are times that you will hear a little hiss start, a guitar lick, then
the hiss will stop. The hiss will begin again, the same guitar lick,
then the hiss will stop.
My copy came with
a lyrics sleeve which is almost invaluable due to the thick mix and
how buried some of the vocals are at times. The original cover that
you see in my picture was deemed controversial and was later replaced
by the concert photo that is on the inside gate fold.
Back Cover and Lyrics
A Message From Sly
copyright 2015 by a guy who just really loves records