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Album review: Sly Stone's 'I'm Back! Family & Friends'

Album review: Sly Stone's 'I’m Back! Family & Friends'

As frustrated fans of the erratic funk legend know, this isn’t the first time Sly Stone has promised he’s back: In 1976 he and the Family Stone released “Heard Ya Missed Me, Well I’m Back”; three years later they followed it up with “Back on the Right Track.” Unlike those coolly received efforts, “I’m Back! Family & Friends” doesn’t contain much original material, which of course undercuts to some extent the very idea of Stone’s return. If he’s not writing and recording new music, what is it that he’s back to, exactly? Failing to show up on time for his live engagements?

Here he teams with a handful of fellow Woodstock-era vets — Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge — for covers of old hits like “Everyday People” and “I Want to Take You Higher.” There is no great damage done to the still-powerful material, though you might cringe slightly when Ray Manzarek drops a bit of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” into “Dance to the Music.” But these affectionate redos don’t tell you anything you didn’t already know about Stone’s music; they’re far less informative than work by his many acolytes.

Three new tracks (including a dreamy take on the gospel standard “His Eye Is on the Sparrow”) provide a glimmer of what Stone might accomplish if he ever rouses himself more fully. But only a glimmer — and only after a good deal of static.

Sly Stone
“I’m Back! Family & Friends”
(Cleopatra)
One and a half stars (Out of four)

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Mavis Staples' second act

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Unsung heroes: Ex-tribute artist Charles Bradley finds his own voice

—Mikael Wood

 
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