Album of the Week 37-2013: Sly and the Family Stone – Fresh

By the time ‘Fresh’ was recorded, Sly Stone was recording by himself so much, that it’s hard to make out how much of the album is “Sly” and how much of it is “the Family Stone”. However, this knowledge is hardly needed to appreciate this album for what it really is: one of the very best Funk albums ever recorded. It is still built upon shimmering, dark grooves like ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’ was, but adapts a slightly more upbeat nature. Mind you, the celebratory nature of ‘Stand!’ is in the past though.

On ‘Fresh’ even moreso than on ‘There’s A Riot Goin’ On’, there’s a notable shift from melody to grooves. Sly’s vocals, the backing vocals and the bass parts by either Rusty Allen or Sly himself – the actual recording details are more or less left in the dark – are most prominently featured in the mix and although there is plenty of room for especially the horns and the keyboard work, it’s these rhythms and vocals that drive the songs. And said songs are simply really good. Maybe not as instantly memorable as ‘Everyday People’, ‘Stand!’ or ‘Family Affair’, but there is some incredible material on here.

You’d have to look no further than the second track on here to find the best Funk song ever written. ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ has everything a Funk song asks for, starting with an absolutely killer bass line. Like any Funk track, it is driven by its infectious rhythm and Sly’s laidback voice gives it an irresistible atmosphere. Simply breathtaking.

‘If You Want Me To Stay’ isn’t the only good song on here though. Opening track ‘In Time’ is probably the most upbeat track on here and has some great instrumental work to one of Sly’s better vocal performances, ‘Frisky’ is as cheeky as the title suggests, ‘Thankful N’ Thoughtful’ works incredibly well as a vamp-turned-song, ‘Keep On Dancin” is a perfect revisiting of ‘Dance To The Music’ for this era, ‘Skin I’m In’ has a fantastic, almost gospel-like release in the chorus and some awesome horn work and closer ‘Babies Makin’ Babies’ serves as a killer introduction to what Parliament would be doing several years later. Unsurprisingly, Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton has repeatedly mentioned ‘Fresh’ as one of his all time favorite albums.

Listening to ‘Fresh’ can only lead to the conclusion that Clinton is right. Because Sly kept on remixing and remastering the album until long after the album’s release, several versions exist of ‘Fresh’. There’s much debate over which sounds best – I own the remaster with five alternate mixes that sound a bit more spacious than the original album, something especially ‘Let Me Have It All’ profits from – but the song material stands as it is. This material has stood the test of time incredibly well even four decades after its original release and that is the testament of a truly great album. Obligated for anyone who is into rhythms.

Recommended tracks: ‘If You Want Me To Stay’, ‘Skin I’m In’, ‘In Time’

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