"Ain't But the One Way" marks Sly Stone's return to the Family Stone after an ill-fated collaboration with George Clinton and his first album since 1979's much underrated "Back on the Right Track." The new album smolders throughout with the unmistakable Family Stone sound, but never quite catches fire.
On their classic late '60s records, Sly and the Family Stone drew the listener into the tension of psychedelic guitar cutting across a popping bass and wild-man vocals improvising against punchy horns. Those old singles then released from that tension with glorious, anthemic chorus hooks. The new album provides the old, fascinating tension but not the release. Moreover, Stone's lyrics have regressed from sharp family and social insights into catch phrases.
Thus a song like "Ha Ha, Hee Hee" has a seductive, slippery feel but never goes anywhere. Stone's version of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" has a wonderfully compressed funk syncopation but never breaks loose on the song's slam-bang chorus. "High, Y'all" is a thinly disguised rewrite of Stone's old hit "I Want to Take You Higher," but has the satisfying payoff the other songs lack. Through it all, Stone's funk remains much more fluid and personal than the offerings of most of his countless, plodding imitators on the black pop charts. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE -- Ain't But the One Way (Warner Bros. 23700-1). THE SHOW SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE & RARE EARTH, Friday and Saturday at 8 at the Kaywood Theater.