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Staple Singers - The Staple Swingers

Staple Singers - The Staple Swingers

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Title:  The Staple Swingers
Company: Stax
Catalog: STS-2034
Country/State: Chicago, Illinois
Year: 1971
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Fourteen albums into their recording career (their third studio set for Stax), and The Staple Singers finally hit a commercial goldmine with the release of 1971's cleverly-titled "The Staple Swingers". While the group underwent a personnel shakeup shortly before the album was recorded with Pervis Staples dropping out and younger sister Yvonne joining sisters Cleo and Mavis in the line up, you had to scratch your head and wonder why it took so long for The Staples to break through commercially. Musically the album wasn't a major departure from the group's earlier blend of gospel and soul, thought this time around new producer Al Bell made a couple of subtle changes. In addition to taking the group to Muscle Shoals, Bell reoriented the sound from gospel to soul. Gospel remained a core part of their sound, but it was packaged in a very contemporary soul sound that was well suited for integrated airwaves. It might not have sounded like monumental changes, but it made a major difference. The album also engagingly showcased The Stapes activist agenda ('This Is a Perfect World', 'What's Your Thing' and 'I Like the Things About You'). Mind you they were far from the only recording group espousing economic, political, and social change, but they were one of the few who managed to be subtle, deft, and thought provoking about it ...

- Okay, the opening machine gun sound effects were extremely cheesy, but the rest of 'This Is a Perfect World' was a near perfect blend of activism, gospel, and soul. A great introduction to Mavis' classic voice and the combination of Pops and his daughters unique harmony vocals. rating: **** stars
- Showcasing some fantastic dobro guitar (Pops ?), 'What's Your Thing' framed the group with a surprisingly slinky blues feel. This one was a perfect example of the group's strengths including a thought provoking lyric that managed to avoid the usual stridence that marred most stabs at singing about racial tolerance. Classic soul track. rating: **** stars
- Maybe it's just me, but to my ears Mavis Staples has always had one of soul's sexiest voices. It really didn't matter if she was singing a page out of a telephone book, or a tale of self empowerment like the insidiously catchy 'You've Got To Earn It' ... rating: **** stars
- Their cover of O.V. Wright's ''You're Gonna Make Me Cry' was an unexpected change of pace, showing they were quite at home on a bluesy ballad. You won't forget the Wright original, but this one sure came close. rating: **** stars
- With Mavis handling the majority of lead vocals, folks overlooked the fact Pops Staples was an accomplished singer. True, he couldn't compete with his daughters, but his performance had their own charm and that was never as obvious as on the pretty mid-tempo 'Little Boy'. Okay, this was one where the lyric may have been a bit on the cloying side and Mavis made the song hers when she picked up lead on the second verse. Still, one of my favorite performances on the collection. rating: **** stars
- The first disappointment, 'How Do You Move a Mountain' was an okay song that served to showcase the sisters' magical vocal harmonies. Unfortunately the song was ruined by a hackneyed arrangement. rating: ** stars
- 'Almost' was another interesting change of pace. Musically this one sounded like producer Bell had borrowed a page of Norman Whitefield's late-1960s production book. Imagine those psychedelic-soul records The Temptations recorded with Whitfield and you'll have an idea of what this one sounded like. rating: *** stars
- Another Pops lead vocal, 'I'm a Lover' was a charming country-soul number. Easy going melody and a lyric that put things in the right perspective ... How could you not like this song ? rating: **** stars
- I don't think The Staples ever cut a rock song, but 'Love Is Plentiful' came awfully close ... Easily one of their toughest performances and the edge on Mavis voice sounded great. rating: **** stars
- Geez, I'm old enough to remember hearing 'Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)' on the radio and being mesmerized by the goofy chorus ... one of their classic performances and I didn't realize it had been penned by Jeff Barry and the late Barry Bloom. rating: **** stars
- A cool, slinky, country-soul number, 'I Like the Things About You' had a self-empowerment lyric that should be required listening for every teenager. rating: **** stars
- Hum, covering a Bee Gees song ... Well I liked it better than the original, but 'Give a Hand - Take a Hand' still didn't do a great deal for me. rating: ** stars

The album also spun off a pair of hit singles:

- 1971's 'Love Is Plentiful' b/w 'Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)' (Stax catalog number STA-0083)
- 1971's 'You've Got To Earn It' b/w 'I'm a Lover' (Stax catalog number STA-0093)

As much as I like this album, the next couple of releases are even better !

"The Staple Swingers" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) This Is a Perfect World (Bettye Crutcher - Mack Rice - Tommy Tate) - 4:20
2.) What's Your Thing (Mack Rice) - 4:21
3.) You've Got To Earn It (Smokey Robinson - Cornelius Grant) - 3:28
4.) You're Gonna Make Me Cry (Don Malone) - 5:04
5.) Little Boy (Carson Whitsett) - 3:25
6.) How Do You Move a Mountain (Myrna March - Adam Levy) - 2:34

(side 2)
1.) Almost (Harold Thomas - Leroy Mason) - 4:16
2.) I'm a Lover (James Mabone - Charles Bevel) - 3:43
3.) Love Is Plentiful (Bettye Crutcher - Bobby Manuel) - 2:30
4.) Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom) (Jeff Barry - Bobby Bloom) - 2:58
5.) I Like the Things About You (Martha Stubb - Roebuck Staples) - 3:21
6.) Give a Hand - Take a Hand (Barry Gibbs - Maurice Gibbs) - 3:55
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