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To mark Stax's 50th anniversary (and successful reactivation), the powers that be — specifically, the Concord Music Group, which acquired the Stax catalog when it purchased Fantasy Records — have released a handsome, double-disc box. Celebration covers all the bases, from rural church sounds to the sweetest love pleas of their legendary artists. Take the Staple Singers' anthem "Respect Yourself" — it's hard to believe something so drenched in gospel and inclusive righteousness was a major '70s hit, but Stax made it happen. Isaac Hayes was signed to Stax as well, and several of his classic tunes, such as "Walk on By" and "Theme from Shaft," are included. Otis Redding's last smash "[Sittin' on] The Dock of the Bay" is featured here as well, and his melodic voice is reason enough to purchase this compilation. The Dramatics' sublime "In the Rain" distills the sultry, reflective melancholy of one of the best vocal groups ever. Jean Knight's strutting "Mr. Big Stuff" shows a sister asserting herself, telling off a would-be player. In the early '70s, Stax even branched out to rock 'n' roll — not much in the way of commercial success, but its subsidiary Ardent released the first two albums by power-pop icons Big Star, and they're included here. The cool guy's dream theme "Peter Gunn" has a funky counterpart, used to great effect in the movie Get Shorty, and it's here: "Green Onions," by Booker T & the MG's. You get the everlasting hits ("Hold On, I'm Comin," "Knock on Wood") and choice obscurities/rarities by Linda Lyndell and Mabel John. Fifty tracks total — all killer, no filler. Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration is not only educational; it's essential. — Mark Keresman

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