This brilliant single-disc compilation focuses on the pinnacle of James Brown’s achievements: the dance music he made between 1969 and 1971, when he defined the stateof the art of rhythm, again and again and again. You may think you already know “Funky Drummer” just because you’ve heard the rhythm sampled on a thousand hip-hop tracks, but if you’ve never heard the full nine-minute jam, you need to. Brown leads the band through a sinuous groove, punctuated by horn blasts and his own grunts, pulling on the rhythm like it was Silly Putty, seeing how far he can stretch the groove and still retain its feel. When he finally lets Clyde Stubblefield take the drum break, it’s as pure a moment of release as you’ll find in recorded music.
Nothing could stop Brown in these three years, not even having most of his band quit. Almost every track here clocks in between six and nine minutes, and all have an awesome, unstoppable propulsion. Whenever Brown stops the groove for a breakdown, whether it’s on “Talkin’ Loud and Sayin’ Nothing” or “Get Up, Get Into It and Get Involved,” it feels like he has ordered the ocean to stop crashing onto the beach. And, of course, the ocean obeys.