We’ll wrap up this week’s look at the best box sets of 2006 with another Rhino entry called What It Is!: Funky Soul & Rare Grooves. At first I didn’t really get this set, culled primarily from labels once owned and distributed by the WEA corporation between 1967 and 1977, aside from the fact that, yes, most of it was pretty funky. But the introductory essay by Oliver Wang sheds some light. Although people had been collecting soul and funk records before the hip-hop explosion, once DJs started digging for samples and the deep well of James Brown beats ran dry everything became fair game. That’s how you can have a soul jazz cut by Brother Jack McDuff in the same collection as a hokey (but funky) spin on “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by Indian fusion sitar player Ananda Shankar and some vintage Latin soul by Eddie Palmieri’s Harlem River Drive.
The set contains its fair share of big names—Aretha Franklin, Sly Stone, Wilson Pickett—but for crate diggers the more obscure the better. Each track is annotated, providing biographical info when it’s available or when it makes sense and serving up bizarre ephemera when it’s not. Even if you’re not a hard-core devotee of this kind of stuff there’s plenty to sink your teeth into; the silliest tracks are still jams. It might not change your world, but it’s a blast nonetheless.