Housed in a 45-sized box of hand-assembled chipboard (if you don't get the implication of this musty '60 packaging material, this set is not designed for you), this four disc, 91-track tour through the freaky underside of black pop is simply a collector's dream. Arranged chronologically from 1967 (the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band's "Spreadin' Honey") to 1977 (P-Funk alum Eddie Hazel's damaged rendition of "California Dreamin'), the box is a self-conscious exploration of also-rans. It's an alternative history, told from the ground up, of the often repeated metamorphosis of rhythm & blues to soul to funk and disco. As soul scholar Oliver Wang sees it in his liner notes (just part of a photo- and typography-rich 82-page book), this is the sound of hundreds of struggling acts on flimsy labels, aiming for a gig on the chitlin'circuit or a few minutes of AM radio. As such, it's nearly impossible to argue with the rarities and obscurities within; only a scrooge of a collector would fault the alternate takes (including Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady") or other possible inclusions. The remastering is a dream, without a trace of the accumulated mold or coffee grounds that must have been unearthed with the tracks' discovery. The sequencing, too, is a joy, just made for a long car trip or, of course, a house party -- rife with instrumentals, funky breaks, call-and-response shouters, and novelties (see "Pig Snoots, Pt. 1"). The set's overarching theme holds up, showing how all the usually cited social pressures (civil rights, urban poverty, and black militancy) were but one facet of the move from R&B toward the harder, darker, and deeper sound of funk. Fuzzed-guitars show up by 1969 with the Southshore Commission's "Right On, Pt. 1"), and tempos slow noticeably in the wake of Sly Stone's 1971 There's a Riot Goin' On. Funk was also a response to the marketplace and the constant competition among smaller labels to provide party music and maybe a regional hit. By 1972, even Little Richard was in on the act. Another winner from the team at Rhino, this box offers hours of soul-catalyzing enjoyment, suitable for beginners but especially geared to that most disdainful music snob you love.