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Amen/Why

The Staple Singers

Real Gone Music 2017

Review by David Bowling

 

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

Roebuck “Pops” Staples began his career as a teenager in the 1920’s. By the 1940’s 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 1970’s, they released music for the Vee Jay and Riverside labels where they became renowned for their gritty brand of gospel music. The mid-1960’s 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 Amen/Why.

Amen is the more traditional of the two releases.  Pops Staples arranges a number of gospel songs. “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands,” “This Train,” “Delilah,” and “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” are more of a straight vocal approach than the funky R&B sound of their classic 1970’s 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 Pops 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 the barring of black students from an Arkansas High School. It would eventually become an early center piece 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.

While The Staple Singers were well into their career, Amen/Why finds them in transition. Two more 1960’s Epic albums would complete the process and lead to their classic sound.

This release finds The Stale 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 the roots of American funk and rhythm & blues.

 

Rating: ***1/2

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