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Soul - Released January 1, 2011 | Stax

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Indispensable JAZZ NEWS
The Staples' finest single album, containing three Top Ten R&B hits, "Respect Yourself," "I'll Take You There," and "This World." The first two also were pop Top 20s, "I'll Take You There" going all the way to number one. © Rob Bowman /TiVo
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R&B - Released January 1, 2015 | Stax

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
Faith & Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976 isn't career-spanning, as stated by the Concord label. The proof is right there, in the title. Throughout the latter part of the '70s and during the mid-'80s, the Staple Singers recorded strong material for the Warner Bros. and Private I labels. Nonetheless, as of 2015, this box set was easily the most comprehensive Staples anthology. Physical copies consist of four discs, as well as a re-pressing of an early-'50s single, "Faith and Grace" b/w "These Are They," which was produced in a one-time limited edition of 500 copies, sold at Staples performances. That alone is enough to stir the interest of longtime fans. Even without those two songs, Faith & Grace would be almost as close to essential as it gets for a box set. It covers the group's stints with Vee-Jay, United, Riverside, Epic, and Stax, a rich period during which they evolved from an acoustic gospel-folk group that performed in small churches into a genre-crossing main attraction for 110,000 people at the Los Angeles Coliseum (as documented on Wattstax). The selection of highlights is thoughtful, if imperfect. There are '50s A-sides like "It Rained Children" and "I Had a Dream," and the charting '60s cuts "Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)" and "For What It's Worth," the latter of which they made their own as much as anything written by Pops Staples. While the Stax-era material includes the major classics "Respect Yourself," "I'll Take You There," and "If You're Ready (Come Go with Me)," there are some peculiar omissions. Neither "This World" nor the Wattstax version of "Oh La De Da" made the cut, even though both were Top Ten R&B hits. The previously unreleased material isn't revelatory, though it's fascinating to hear a demo of Mack Rice and Luther Ingram's "Respect Yourself" fronted aggressively by Rice. Packaged folio style with an abundance of photographs and liner notes, it's a generous overview -- track-selection flaws notwithstanding -- of a crucial 20th century musical institution. © Andy Kellman /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1971 | Craft Recordings

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R&B - Released January 1, 2007 | Stax

Back in 1990, when the Fantasy Records conglomerate owned the Stax imprint, they issued a 16-cut Best of the Staple Singers. Fast forward to 2007 and the label, Fantasy and all its associated labels -- Riverside, Milestone, Prestige, etc -- are owned by Concord. This later issue of Very Best of the Staple Singers contains four more songs than the original Stax release but unfortunately, it doesn't entirely replicate it. First the positives: the sound has been dramatically improved. The remastering job captures the group dynamics in full, from the rich harmony vocals by Cleotha, Pervis, and later Yvonne, to the wonderful lead presences of both Pops and Mavis. All of these cuts were singles, and the vast majority of them charted. The wonderful familiars are here, with "Heavy Makes You Happy, (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)," "Be What You Are," and "I'll Take You There" among them. The different cuts, such as "Long Walk to D.C.," the Delaney Bramlett penned "The Ghetto" (from 1968 when the group first joined the label), the Al Kooper penned "Brand New Day" (from the film The Landlord), "When Will We Be Paid," "Who Took the Merry out of Christmas," Delbert McClinton's "Back Road into Town/There Is a God" and "I Got to Be Myself," do not appear on the original best-of yet are worthy and welcome additions here. The hard part is that other well-known Staples favorites, such as their version of Robbie Robertson's "The Weight," "We'll Get Over," "Oh La De Da," and the group's amazing reading of Don Covay's "This Old Town" are missing. While it is a trade-off, those serious about collecting the Staples' singles may favor this, though perhaps owning both -- despite replication -- may be the best notion indeed. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Soul - Released February 21, 2020 | Craft Recordings

The Staple Singers released their first recordings in the mid-'50s, and they were highly influential and well-respected in gospel circles a decade later, but the mainstream audience was unaware of them as they began flirting with pop music forms without making a decisive move away from their spiritual roots. In 1968, they signed with Stax Records, one of America's strongest soul labels (who also had a sideline in gospel), and at Stax they not only enjoyed their greatest commercial success but learned how to make music that pleased the mass audience while maintaining a moral and spiritual authority that quieted any suggestion of compromise. The Staple Singers cut six original albums for Stax, and Come Go with Me: The Stax Collection is a handsome box set that brings them together in refurbished and remastered form, along with a bonus disc of non-LP single sides and live tracks from the soundtrack of the movie Wattstax. Come Go with Me makes it clear the Staple Singers didn't nail their hit formula right off the bat. The title of their first Stax LP, 1968's Soul Folk in Action, affirms no one was sure just where to classify them at first. That album and 1970's We'll Get Over were both produced by Steve Cropper, and while he and his Memphis crew gave the albums a polished and soulful sound, it didn't entirely flatter the Staples despite the excellence of their vocals, and the song selection wasn't always the best (there just wasn't room for them to bring anything fresh to "Games People Play" or "[Sittin' On] The Dock of the Bay"). Despite its singularly awful title, 1971's The Staple Swingers was a major improvement. Stax co-owner Al Bell took over as producer and took them to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to cut with their fabled house band, and the leaner, tougher grooves favored Mavis Staples' powerful, emphatic lead vocals, as well as the occasional vocals and incisive guitar work from Roebuck "Pops" Staples, her dad and the group's leader. The album gave the Staple Singers their first significant R&B hit, "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)," and 1972's Be Altitude was even better and produced a pair of stone classics, "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." 1973's Be What You Are and 1974's City in the Sky weren't quite as solid, but having secured their place on the pop and soul charts, the group felt free to return a bit of their churchy side into their vocals and lyrics, and their fusion of the sacred and the soulful was never more powerful, even if the records didn't cohere as well. Listeners looking for a concise introduction to the Staples' best work should pick up 1991's single-disc The Best of the Staple Singers, but Come Go with Me demonstrates how consistently rewarding and even moving their lesser work can be, and listened to in full, their Stax catalog is a soul-satisfying revelation. © Mark Deming /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1974 | Craft Recordings

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R&B - Released January 1, 2007 | Fantasy Records

This set is the honest to goodness real deal, an undeniably great Christmas album that not only includes simple but striking arrangements of several holiday classics but also plays and feels very much like an album of tracks that really belong together, and it builds as it goes into a striking and powerful listen. Recorded in 1962 at Universal Studios in Chicago, the album features the classic Staple Singers lineup of Pops, Mavis, Yvonne, and Pervis Staples on vocals, with Pops doubling on his trademark reverb-drenched guitar alongside Maceo Woods on organ and Al Duncan on drums. The arrangements are simple and natural, leaving plenty of room for the vocals, and versions here of "The Last Month of the Year," "Joy to the World," and Thomas Dorsey's "The Savior Is Born" are nothing short of an easy, natural perfection. Pops' spooky guitar work gives extra atmosphere to the lightly funky "No Room at the Inn" and the gorgeous rendition of "Silent Night" that ends the album. The 25th Day of December is a wonderful outing, and a classic holiday album. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 2016 | Epic - Legacy

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R&B - Released July 3, 1968 | Epic - Legacy

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R&B - Released January 1, 1986 | Stax

The best and most famous cuts from their glory years at Stax. Includes their massive hits "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There"; less famous but similar gospel-funk fusions like "Touch a Hand (Make a Friend)" and "Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)"; and less expected items like a cover of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." It does not, however, have their 1975 number one single "Let's Do It Again," which they recorded just after cutting their ties to Stax. © Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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Soul - Released January 1, 1965 | Legacy - Columbia

Originally released on Epic in 1965 as a live in-church session, Legacy's 1991 reissue of Freedom Highway includes two of the original LP tracks supplemented by some truly spirited late-'60s Epic recordings. Despite the glaring omissions, Freedom Highway never feels like a hastily thrown-together compilation. Instead, it follows an arc that deftly mirrors the religious, political, and social fervor of the '60s as filtered through the warm vibrato of Pops Staples' amplifier and the golden throats of his brood. Gospel standards like "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Wade in the Water" benefit from the full band arrangements, giving them a swift kick of rock & roll that would eventually morph into the soul-funk sound of their popular '70s period. Pops, inspired by his meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., contributes the wickedly infectious title cut -- one of the two live tracks from the original -- and the incendiary "Why Am I Treated So Bad," a bluesy lament inspired by the hardships of the "Little Rock 9." As always, the vocals and harmonies are nothing short of astounding, most notably on the Mavis Staples-led "Move Along Train" -- never has gospel sounded so sexy. Each song bristles with emotion and resonates deeper with every repeated listen, resulting in an experience that transcends scripture while remaining true to its alternately redemptive and fiery foundations. Freedom Highway captures a family approaching the cusp of catharsis, and its charms lie in the world-weary delivery of its message. Their devotion has been tested and their hands have been bloodied, but their faith has grown into an endless garden because of it, and by the time they reach the spookiest version of "This Train" ever put to tape, listeners will no doubt feel as empowered as the once doomed passengers inside. © James Christopher Monger /TiVo
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Soul - Released November 30, 1968 | Craft Recordings

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Soul - Released February 27, 2015 | Epic - Legacy

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Soul - Released January 1, 1968 | Craft Recordings

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R&B - Released January 1, 2006 | Stax

Throughout the distinct phases of their recording career, from straight rhythmic gospel to Civil Rights protest anthems, to what might be called soul folk to the funky grit of their Stax years, the Staple Singers always delivered songs that said something, and even when the grooves of songs like 1971's "Respect Yourself" or 1972's reggae-tinged "I'll Take You There" were sending people to the dancefloors, the lyrics were hopeful, message-driven missives of support for a better self, a better community, and a better world. Stax Profiles is a fine anthology which collects tracks recorded between 1968 and 1975 during the Staple Singers productive stay at Stax Records, and includes both "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There," as well as the powerful "City in the Sky," "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend," "Are You Sure," with its brilliantly staggered vocals, and the Steve Cropper produced "Long Walk to D.C." There isn't a single lame track here, and while there are lengthier collections of the Staple Singers' Stax years on the market, this one has a wonderful flow. © Steve Leggett /TiVo
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R&B - Released October 11, 1975 | Rhino

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Soul - Released January 1, 1974 | Craft Recordings

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Gospel - Released January 1, 1963 | Riverside

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Soul - Released January 1, 1968 | Craft Recordings

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Gospel - Released January 1, 1966 | Riverside

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