Thursday, 17 January 2019

The Staple Singers - Be What You Are (1973)


Released in 1973

After the uplifting gospel soul of "Be Altitude: Respect Yourself", The Staple Singers were back the following year with this excellent album. Although the gospel influence is always there this is a bit more of a punchy, horn-driven soul album. The hard-hitting messages are still there, of course. The Staple Singers always had something wise to say.


1. Be What You Are
2. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)
3. Medley: Love Comes In All Colours- Tellin' Lies
4. Touch A Hand (Make A Friend)
5. Drown Yourself
6. I Ain't Raisin' No Sand
7. Grandma's Hands
8. Bridges Instead Of Walls
9. I'm On Your Side
10. That's What Friends Are For
11. Heaven                                                  

The album starts with the brooding, soulful groove of "Be What You Are", featuring those trademark Stax horns and the expected great vocal. The classic, infectious "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" is next, with its killer riff that was appropriated by Hot Chocolate for both "You Sexy Thing" and "Don't Stop It Now", to an extent. The lengthy "Medley", which is basically two songs - the soulful, "message" song of  "Love Comes In All Colours" and the cynical put-down of "Tellin' Lies" - is sublime in the delivery of both songs. Both are full to the brim with soul.

"Touch A Hand (Make A Friend)" drives me mad because it reminds me so much a of subsequent song by someone else but it is going round in my head and I can't put my finger on it. Either way, it is an irresistibly catchy number. Again, the message is one of love and tolerance. "Drown Yourself" is a gloomy song about reaching the point of no return. The backing is suitably sombre and bluesy. Here the message is one for those who have no love in their hearts for anyone or anything. They might as well head down to the river and drown themselves. Indeed.

"I Ain't Raisin' No Sand" is an infectious, semi-funky grinder with some sublime brass sections and a super-funky vocal from Mavis Staples. It ends with a superb bit of funky voice/percussion/guitar interplay. Bill Withers' "Grandma's Hands" is given a brassy, gospelly makeover. "Bridges Instead Of Walls" (how relevant once more is that nowadays) re-works the feel of "If You're Ready" slightly in its rhythm. Again, its message cannot be argued with. "I'm On Your Side" is a beautiful ballad, packed full of Stax soul.

"That's What Friends Are For" is a deliciously funky/brassy/soul/jazzy number with superb vocals and backing. It doesn't get much better than this. "Heaven" is a big orchestration ballad with the gospel influence making itself known. Overall, this has been an outstanding album, slightly better than the previous one, although both are excellent. Highly recommended (if you can get hold of it, which is difficult).


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