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50th Anniversary 12 CD Boxed Set, Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection, Honors Legendary Festival And The Social Movement It Supported

Mark Smotroff gets a musical, historical and societal history lesson…

Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection is an important new archival release, perhaps one of the most important releases of the year as it is in effect an audio documentary of an historical moment. Everyone should listen to this music and commentary for a multitude of reasons which I’ll touch on during this review…

I am working my way through this fabulous 12 CD super-deluxe-edition boxed set celebrating the legendary Wattstax Festival, newly and lovingly issued by Craft Recordings in celebration of the event’s 50th Anniversary. 

Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection is both wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. There is not only a lot of music here, but taken as  whole the set becomes a poignant document of a significant cultural touchstone event, in many ways a turning point for society. If you love soul music and also want to get a quick education on the impact of this epic concert which brought together 110,000 African Americans in a statement of unity, peace and forward looking harmony, this collection is in many ways ground zero for understanding what went on 50 years ago. Through the music and the fantastic included hardbound book with thoughtful essays and insights, this set not just a reminder of those turbulent times — the message is still incredibly important today. 

There’s a whole lot of music here on this collection and I am still working my way through it all but I will try give you some of the highlights I’ve discovered so far. 

First and foremost, these recordings — which were originally captured on 8-channel multi-track analog tape — sound really terrific! 

Featuring an almost Who’s Who of the royalty of the Stax Records label at that time, Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection gives the listener effectively a front row seat to experience this complete concert in a way not since the original radio broadcasts — arguably as never before given the wealth of previously unreleased material. This is the first time many of these recordings have been released in their entirety and together in one set like this. 

The Wattstax performances include no less than Isaac Hayes at his “Black Moses” peak, riding the success his multi-Grammy Award winning soundtrack theme to the movie Shaft and follow on hit recordings. You’ll also hear outstanding performances by The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, David Porter, Kim Weston and The Bar-kays. 

The Bar-kays

Overall, so far I’ve been very impressed with Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection in its completeness, thoughtfulness and attention to delivering the best possible fidelity from these live recordings.   

Carla Thomas

As great as the music is one of the most poignant — and frankly, tear-inducing — parts for me are the numerous topical discussion points made by speakers from the stage to the audience. One in particular is especially inspiring as Rev. Jesse Jackson leads the crowd through his iconic spine-tingling inspirational speech, to reiterate the underlying community building premise of this even, the crowd chanting “I Am Somebody” is simultaneously exciting and heartwarming. 

Melvin Van Peebles took this concept a step further, leading the crowd through repeating these three words aloud as the words were posted over the electronic scoreboard in the massive stadium. His message — titled “We’re Here To Consecrate, Not Desecrate” in the set — is given its own track listing before leading into his introduction of The Staple Singers (who are at the top of their game with Mavis Staples especially pulling out all the stops).  

The Staple Singers

One of my favorite performances thus far – and I am still working my way through the hours and hours of music in this collection — is David Porter’s passionate and heartwarming set. Kim Weston’s “Lift Every Voice And Sing” (aka The Black National Anthem) is a stunner but she also kicks off the event (which was being broadcast on radio) with a grooving soulful version of “The Star Spangled Banner”- it is perhaps the first version I’ve heard that truly swings! 

Albert King’s full set is included, again happily in one place as bits had been previous released on several different albums over the years. 

While Issac Hayes’ headlining set had been issued previously as an independent CD, it is great having it included here in context with this event.

Issac Hayes

We also get to hear the complete uncut nearly 20-minute “Salvation Symphony,” an original composition opening the event which had been edited down on the original LP release. Composed and performed by Dale Warren and The Wattstax ’72 Orchestra, there is some searing mad guitar soloing going on toward the end of this epic undertaking which served as opening music for the show (I am still trying to figure out who the player was on this piece but whoever it is they are smokin’!) 

One of the most fascinating parts of Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection is the inclusion of shows recorded in the aftermath of Wattstax for performers who could not make it to the event on the original show day. Some of these performances were included in the original soundtrack (particularly on Wattstax 2: The Living Word). But many weren’t.  

So here for the first time we get to hear a full set by Chicago’s The Sons Of The Slum, a band managed by Pervis Staples (who’d been in the earlier incarnation of The Staples Singers) and which released several singles on Stax in the early 1970s.  Their set is great funky fun in the vein of Sly & The Family Stone and James Brown but with a bit of a psychedelic funk twist this side of Parliament Funkadelic. Here they cover James Brown’s “Think About It,” a sizzling high energy version of Otis Redding’s “Respect” and a great medley of “Papa Was A Rollin Stone/Dance To The Music/Music Lover/I Want To Take You Higher”  as well as their own single “The Man.” 

The Sons Of The Slum never got to put out an album. And in some ways, I can hear why this recording may have remained in the archives all these years as there are parts where in their enthusiasm the band gets a little out of tune — but that is minor in the grand scheme of things. Their energy more than compensates and at least now we get to hear what this formidable band could deliver live on stage without a net. 

Cover art for the hardcover book included in the set…

These Summit Club sets are essential including The Emotions, Little Milton, Mel & Tim, Johnny Taylor and Rufus Thomas.  There are so many other artists on this set I am still working my way through it all but I hope by now you get the idea that Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection is an essential collection for fans of soul, R’nB, Blues.

12 CDs packaged thoughtfully for easy accessibility…

As I stated at the start of this review, this is an important release, perhaps one of the most important releases of the year.  Everyone should listen. 

This message graced the inner-sleeves of the original 1972 Wattstax LPs

For you vinyl fans, I also have reviewed both reissues of the two companion movie soundtracks from the Wattstax movie documenting this epic 1972 concert event. These two double-disc sets have been in need of a good reissue series for some time: Wattstax: The Living Word and The Living Word: Wattstax 2. For my review of the vinyl, please click here to read up on it on Analog Planet.

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