Wednesday, February 24, 2010

ROW: The Staple Singers - Great Day (Milestone)

Culled from three early-Sixties Riverside platters and originally released in 1975 as a double LP, this compilation visits the Staples in iterations before their Stax ascendancy. Roebuck’s ringing, tremolo-rich guitar-picking is front and center assisted by several small rhythm combos that include either bass or organ and drums. Sister Mavis handles the leads with her father while siblings Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne cover back-up and interject syncopated handclaps. Most of the cuts clock in the 2-3 minute range, short and irrefutably sweet in their synthesis of stripped down gospel, R&B and blues elements. There’s not really a bum track in the bunch and none of the production excesses that would erode the edge on some of their later forays into sanctified funk and soul. The harmonies positively soar on heartfelt songs like “Gloryland” and “Do You Know Him” and even shibboleths like “Swing Down, Chariot” and “Motherless Children” get fresh coats of consecrated paint. A dubious bonus is the long-winded liners scripted by one Stanley Crouch circa ‘75 who just can’t help himself in using the Staples’ music as a springboard for his predictable polemics on race, politics and African American artistic superiority. Fortunately, the inclusive and uplifting sounds summarily stuff a welcome sock in Stanley’s self-serving screed.

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