Various Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration

It all started again for Stax in the late ’80s. Atlantic’s box set of every Stax single from 1959 to ’68 represented a new standard in anthologies, and is essential for Rob Bowman’s 64-page booklet of analysis and photos. Stax claimed the status of soul major, where a still-active Motown had previously eclipsed it. Almost 20 years later, very loosely timed to the anniversary of founder Jim Stewart’s foundation of the label, comes a new package. The sole novelty of this two-disc collection is the inclusion of all the hits from the Atlantic distributed years (pre-1968) and the rest of Stax’s catalogue, now controlled by the burgeoning Concord Music group. As with packages by Michael Jackson, the Beatles and fellow Memphian Elvis Presley, this could almost be called Stax #1s because only the biggest successes are represented. The main attraction to this set is a lavish booklet containing a pared-down version of Bowman’s Grammy-winning notes to all three sets. The first disc is a very consistent listen dominated by the instrumental backbone of Booker T. and the MGs, and featuring songwriting and arranging by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, as well as Otis Redding’s most incandescent performances. Disc two is a more diverse affair, chronicling the label’s use of more symphonic settings, Detroit influences and the Staple Singers’ greatest works. Buy this if you’re a Winehouse-come-lately fan. (Concord)