CD Reviews: Airplane, Janis, Santana, Sly and Winter rock again in ‘The Woodstock Experience’

It’s taken almost 40 years, but now, finally, we all can hear the complete Woodstock performances of five acts on the bill: Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sly & the Family Stone and Johnny Winter. On CD, each is sold individually starting Tuesday under the banner The Woodstock Experience.

With so many acts at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair of August 1969 in upstate New York, why are these five acts singled out in this way? Simple: Their catalog is from Legacy, which has done a splendid job of repackaging existing material with previously unreleased songs to complete the Woodstock performances of all five artists.

For the Airplane, that means seven additional tracks (including an introduction); for Joplin, two; for Santana, one (Evil Ways, no less); for Sly, seven; and for Winter, five. And there’s more to newly hear if you don’t happen to have all the other songs on previous collections, which I know I don’t.

In each double-CD release, a Woodstock performance disc is paired with the artist’s 1969 album, which either had just been released or had just been recorded. For the Airplane, it was Volunteers; for Joplin, I Got Em Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!; for Santana, the self-titled debut LP; for Sly, Stand!; and for Winter, another self-titled disc.

The packaging is handsome — somehow looking both retro and fresh — with inner-sleeve packets for each disc and a mini-poster folded up inside. But what really sets these releases apart is the fierce — make that incendiary — nature of their galvanizing music.

Each acts brings it, big-time. Why, I even forgive Santana for the drum solo (a drum solo with faint cymbals — for a crowd of half a million?) since the rest of the set simply rocks.

Most precious are Joplin’s added tracks, given the fact that her career and her life ended such a short time later. With her wailing vocals and full-bore boogie bent, she still sends chills, and she virtually erupts on such newly released tracks as the crowd-rousing Raise Your Hand and As Good As You’ve Been to This World. If I had to choose one of these five sets, it would be for her.

Many variations of Woodstock releases have emerged over the years, of course, and all of them are incomplete — even these, in that they represent only five acts in the three-day show. But getting the complete performances of these five acts, and in this impressive format, is some of the best cherry picking I’ve enjoyed in years.

So thanks, Legacy. The rock, blues and soul unleashed here is an historical monument we can always treasure.

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