Thursday, 31 October 2019

The Staple Singers - Faith And Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976

For what it's worth....


This is an exceptionally good box set covering this iconic gospel/soul vocal group's recording career from 1953-1976. The sound quality is wonderful throughout, even on the older gospel recordings have been remastered to sound as good as they possibly can. Later tracks such as Respect Yourself just come thumping out of your speakers with a huge bassy wallop. The collection clocks in at a whopping eighty-one tracks. Yes, some songs are omitted, but overall it is an extremely comprehensive representation of a remarkable career.

The Staple Singers were so integral to the whole civil rights/soul music link, releasing their inspirational or melodic protest material against a background of social turbulence that, thankfully, led to eventual cultural and social emancipation for African-Americans.

The music is superb throughout, beginning with the family group's uplifting gospel material, such as It Rained Children, If I Could Hear My Mother Pray, Help Me Jesus, the vibrant Hammer And Nails and Swing Low Sweet Chariot. The songs are essentially ones that express a steadfast faith against a background of oppression and prejudice, beautifully and proudly sung. They are sentiments that were continued as the group "crossed-over" to the secular sounds of Stax soul, while still retaining their gospel roots and their vocal harmonies. This produced a whole heap of seriously impressive songs, starting with a great cover of Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth and continuing on the iconic tracks such as Respect Yourself, I'll Take You There, If You're Ready (Come Go With Me), the civil rights anthems of Long Walk To D.C. and The Freedom Highway and some excellent Dylan covers in Blowin' In The Wind, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall and Masters Of War. Touch A Hand (Make A Friend) and the addictive  Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom) are also wonderful numbers, as is the group's joining with The Band for The Weight at their final Last Waltz concert.

There is also a real bluesiness to some of the songs, such as the captivating Dying Man's Plea and the evocative John Brown and you can hear how gospel material influenced rock 'n' roll on the vivacious harmonies of What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today). The whole box is a veritable cornucopia of influence and innovation. Just check out the sublime bass, percussion and vocals on Let That Liar Alone. Marvellous stuff. You can listen to any of this set, anytime, and I guarantee that it will lift your spirits.

When the most important groups of the twentieth century are being listed, The Staple Singers are rarely mentioned. They should be. Their egalitarian, non-violent message, and the sheer joy their voices brought was matchless and indeed still is. A totally magnificent group. Just check out the Christmas gospel of There Was A Star or the beautiful harmonies of Will The Circle Be Unbroken. There's your proof.

Below is a great clip of The Staple Singers performing If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) in 1973.


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