The Staple Singers

Real Gone Music, 2017

REVIEW BY: David Bowling


If you want to know where the funk in funky originated, look no further than The Staple Singers.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples began his career as a teenager in the 1920s. By the 1940s, he had moved to Chicago and formed The Staple Singers with his son Purvis and daughters Mavis and Cleotha. Before attaining huge commercial success with white audiences in the 1970s, they released music for the Vee Jay and Riverside labels, where they became renowned for their gritty brand of gospel music. The mid-1960s found them with Epic/Columbia. Now, their first two albums of gospel and secular music for the label have now been re-released by Real Gone Music as my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Amen/Why.

Amen is the more traditional of the two releases, and finds Pops Staples arranging a number of gospel songs. “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” “This Train,” “Delilah,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” have more of a straightforward vocal approach than the funky R&B sound of their classic 1970s period.

The two original Pops compositions are both interesting and arguably the best tracks as they still sound fresh today. Mavis just attacks “More Than A Hammer And Nail.” Her gritty vocal runs counter to the upbeat nature of the song. “Do Something For Yourself,” with Pop’s subdued lead vocal, looks ahead to their social statements of the future.

The Why album is also gospel-oriented but takes more chances. At the time of its release in 1965, life was changing in America, and a number of the tracks reflect the upheaval of those changes. “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)” is a blunt reply to the barring of black students from an Arkansas High School. It would eventually become an early centerpiece of the Civil Rights movement.

The praise song “King Of Kings” and the moving “I’ve Been Scorned” are equal to their best work. “Move Along Train” contains a slow-building Mavis vocal with Cleotha filling in the gaps, a formula they would rely on in the future. “What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today)” is a light but fun-filled romp.

Amen/Why finds The Staple Singers in transition. Two more 1960s Epic albums would complete the process and lead to their classic sound.

This release finds The Staple Singers on the cusp of stardom. It is a good listen for anyone who wants to explore not only the legacy of the Staples but also the roots of American funk and rhythm & blues.

Rating: B+

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