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Closing out the Stax story

The R&B Box: 30 Years of Rhythm and Blues
The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles, Vol. 3 – 1972-1975
By various artists

Stax / Fantasy Records: 1994

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This review first appeared in the November 29, 1994 issue of the North County Blade-Citizen (now North County Times).

Stax Records was once the mightiest of the independents, and its influence on American popular music probably can't be overstated. Booker T and the MGs were the house band, and the artist roster included such R&B luminaries as Otis Redding, the Staples Singers, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor and Isaac Hayes, among others. In addition, blues legend Albert King was a longtime denizen of Stax's Memphis recording studios.

This 10-CD set is the third and last boxed set tracing the history of Stax and its subsidiary labels. (Vol. 2 was released last year by Fantasy, and Vol. 1 is available from Rhino Records, which produced it with Atlantic, which owns the rights to that part of the label's catalogue.)

This collection traces the last years of Stax, when, ironically, the label reached its pinnacle of financial success only to dissolve amid a misguided government investigation that originated with distributor CBS and brought ultimate bankruptcy.

The music ranges from the No. 1 pop hit "I'll Take You There" by the Staples to the mostly forgotten but still smoldering "Ain't That Loving You" by Hayes and David Porter, to a lot of stuff in between the famous and the forgotten. While Stax had more chart hits during this period than the the time periods covered by the other volumes, there were not as many truly influential songs, not as many classics. Booker T and the MGs broke up, and the so-called "Stax Sound" fell by the wayside.

But even if there weren't as many classic pop songs during the period covered here, the talent scouts at Stax still had among the best ears for finding great material and artists, and nearly everything in this generous collection is accessible and listenable.