Like most people I came across the Staple Singers through their fabulous run of Stax and Curtom sides in the Seventies (although their career stretched back to gospel roots in the Fifties). This impressive 2004 double CD is by Ace Records of the UK (using their Kent Soul logo) - and is a thorough retro for one of the most underrated soul acts of all time.
Ace/Kent Soul CDKEN2 240 offers up 44 tracks across 2 CDs covering 1955 to 1984 - with 4 previously unreleased tracks thrown in. Disc 1 roughly deals with 1955 up to 1971, while Disc 2 covers everything after that.
DISC 1: (76:07 minutes)
Tracks 1 to 14 feature their Gospel years with the Riverside, Vanguard and Epic labels, while 15 onwards touch on the Stax issues from 1968 to 1971 including "Long Walk To DC" (their 1st single on Stax in 1968) with "The Ghetto", "The Gardiner" and "When Will We Get Paid For The Work We Do".
DISC 2: (78:14 minutes)
Of the 20 singles they charted between 1971 and 1985 on the US Billboard R&B charts (group and solo), an impressive 14 are on Disc 2 - they are "Heavy Make You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)" (1971), "You've Got To Earn It" (1971), "Respect Yourself" (1971), "I'll Take You There" (1972), "This World" (1972), "Oh La De Da" (1972), "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" (1973), "Touch A Hand, Make A Friend" (1973), "City In The Sky" (1974), "Let's Do It Again" (1975), "New Orleans" (1976), "Love Me, Love Me, Love Me" (1976) and "Slippery People" (1984). There's also the solo Mavis Staples torch ballad single "I Have Learned To Do Without You" from 1970.
What is even more shocking than the classiness of the released material (which still manages to raise a smile to this day) is the quality of the unreleased stuff - how have these gems remained in the can until now? First up on Disc 1 is the Traditional song "John Henry" given a harmonica/guitar driven John Lee Hooker boogie - it's nearest approximation is "Keep On Chooglin' by Creedence Clearwater Revival - fabulous stuff. Then there's "Tryin' Times" on Disc 2 - also by POPS STAPLES (an unreleased alternate version of Stax 0064). It was co-written by Donny Hathaway and Leroy Hutson and first recorded by Roberta Flack in 1969 on her "First Take" album (Donny did is own version of "Everything Is Everything in 1971). Pops goes with the slower Flack interpretation and it's a socially-aware bluesy winner. I've played both tracks many times on the shuffle play in the record shop and they've always elicited a customer response. Then on Disc 2 are "The Only Time You Ever Say You Love Me" by MAVIS STAPLES (a gorgeous slow ballad) and a version of "Oh La De Da" without the fake audience participation that appeared on the Stax 0156 single. Both of these are superb too. Not a lot of unreleased stuff I know, but man the quality is good...
The mastering has been handled by DUNCAN COWELL at Sound Mastering (it's uniformly excellent throughout - especially on the Fifties and Sixties material), while the chunky 28-page colour booklet is jammed with pictured 45's and adverts and has detailed and informative liner notes by noted Soul writer and aficionado TONY ROUNCE. Between them - they've handled large numbers of Ace and Edsel soul reissues throughout the 2000's - see a TAG above for each giving pictorial displays of their work...
I love The Staples Singers - "I'll Take You There" (lyrics above), "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" and the wonderful number one R'n'B hit "Let's Do It Again" - every song imbibed with their lifelong creed of positive action, love and racial harmony - and music as a healer.
"The Ultimate Staples Singers - A Family Affair 1955-1984" is a fantastic overview of their extraordinary career - now onwards to that long-overdue box set.