Artist: The Staple Singers
Album: Faith & Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976
Release Date: 11/13/2015
The Staple Singers were as unassuming as they were influential. From their early days, they lacked the radio history of the Carter Family, the crossover controversy of Ray Charles, the live theatrics of Little Richard, and the packaged presentation of so many label-cooked bands and yet still they managed to capture the ears of some of the biggest names of pop music and culture.
Ever since Roebuck “Pops” Staples gathered his children to learn the songs that his regular band proved too unreliable to rehearse, the Staple Singers have earned the respect of Bob Dylan, Steve Cropper, Curtis Mayfield, the Band, Jeff Tweedy (the latter of which has been instrumental in Mavis Staples’ own late career revival) and many others, as well as performed for four sitting presidents, and lent the Civil Rights movement many a tune to sing. While true chart success largely eluded them across their four-decade recording career, their acolytes were many and far more successful in using the Staples’ own indelible sound.
Faith & Grace, the new box set from Stax and Concord Music Group, makes a sturdy argument for just how indispensable the Staple Singers have been to popular music. Like the Mississippi Delta of Pops’ native state, their sound amply flows over into the tributaries of what we now know as soul, blues, gospel, R&B, protest music and folk. Presented largely in chronological order, letting these 80 songs flow from the start constitutes a veritable tour of the music of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Echoes of Bob Dylan’s call to arms, Canned Heat’s bluesy croon, Motown’s vocal harmonies, Stax’s instrumentation—they’re all here. That is, until you realize the Staples Singers were doing it first. It’s only then that you realize that Faith & Grace isn’t so much a survey of a single group but rather a Rosetta Stone to a broad swath of your whole record collection.