required listening

CD Review


For What It’s Worth : The Complete Epic Recordings 1964-1968

Soul Music (UK) SMCR 5175 BX (3cd box)

AMEN!... More Than A Hammer And A Nail; He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands; My Jesus Is All; This Train; Praying Time; Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw; Samson And Delilah; Nobody’s Fault But Mine; Mary Don’t You Weep; As An Eagle Stirreth Her Nest; Do Something For Yourself; Amen; PRAY ON... It’s Been A Change; Waiting For My Child; How Great Thou Art; Wish I Had Answered; The Tramp On The Street; When Was Jesus Born; Pray On; Glory Glory Hallelujah; The Lord’s Prayer; Had No Room; John Brown; FREEDOM HIGHWAY – LIVE AT CHICAGO’S NEW NAZARETH CHURCH... Freedom Highway; What You Gonna Do; Take My Hand Precious Lord; When I’m Gone; Help Me Jesus; We Shall Overcome; When The Saints Go Marching In; The Funeral; Build On That Shore; Tell Heaven; He’s All Right; WHY... Why (Am I Treated So Bad); King Of Kings; Step Aside; If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again; What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today); Will The Circle Be Unbroken; I’ve Been Scorned; I’m Gonna Tell God (About My Troubles); My Sweet Home; Move Along Train; FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH... For What It’s Worth; Father Let Me Ride; Deliver Me; He; If I Had A Hammer; Are You Sure; Wade In The Water; I’m The Light Of The World; Jacob’s Ladder; Good News; WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE... What The World Needs Now Is Love; Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around; A Place In The Sun; I Wonder Why; Let That Liar Alone; Let’s Get Togehter; Crying In The Chapel; Downward Road; A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall; Nothing Lasts Forever; People Get Ready; Power Of Love

Reflecting on these Staple Singers’ six Epic Records albums (brought together here in a box set from  Soul Music Records) issued between 1964 and ’68, we can see the gap being bridged between their strictly gospel days prior to joining the Columbia subsidiary and the mainly secular material they would embrace on joining Stax in 1969.  Nevertheless, as the above track listing reveals, by far the bulk of the material during the Epic period remains within the gospel marketplace and it has to be admitted that, were it not been by the Staple Singers, adorned by those magnificent vocals from Mavis Staples, the youngest of the four Staples siblings, a release such as this would be by-passed by this website, not least because personal views find the bulk of religion-based lyrics to be, for want of a better word, ‘uncomfortable’.  Thus, comments on individual tracks will, in any event, have to be somewhat limited.  That said, even from the first Epic set, 1965’s ‘Amen!‘ there will always be something to alight on, notably in this instance the Pops Staples-arranged ‘This Train’, Billy Sherrill’s production melting perfectly with the folk-orientated style of the group’s gospel approach and the perhaps surprising choice of Bonnie Dodd’s song, ‘Be Careful Of Stones That You Throw’, which had been a pop hit for Dion [DiMucci] two years earlier, here with the main lyrics spoken, rather than sung, by Pervis Staples.  The title track is, of course, the song from the film, ‘Lillies Of The Field’, popularised by the Impressions and with a lead here from Roebuck ‘Pops‘ Staples.  Billy Sherrill remained producer for the ‘Freedom Highway’ lp and stayed in the rôle for the further two albums.  (Doubtless due to a cd’s time restraints, we have to skip to the second silver disc in the box to get in chronological order.)  ‘Freedom Highway‘ was recorded live at Chicago’s New Nazareth Church.  Pops wrote the title song, having been inspired by the Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama - the group’s association with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement being a strong one.  Despite being a live gospel set, it’s not as ‘happy clappy‘ as one might expect, the Mavis-led ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord’, for example, being respected by the congregation without too many interjections.  ‘When The Saints Go Marching In‘, on the other hand, is what one might expect.  ‘We Shall Overcome‘ retains the protest theme and Hank Williams‘ song, ‘The Funeral‘ is a profound piece where, once again, the lyrics are spoken by Pervis Staples.  We stay with the second cd for Epic album #3, ‘Why’, its title track, the Pops-penned ‘Why (Am I Treated So Bad)‘ and its coupling ‘What Are They Doing (In Heaven Today)‘ being released on 45 twice by Epic, first in 1965, prior to album release and again in 1967.  An anti-segregation song, ‘Why‘ would later be recorded by (among others) the Sweet Inspirations and Bobby Powell.  We return to the first cd for ‘Pray On’, the second album on the group to be issued by Epic in 1966.  Mavis excels on a rendering of ‘How Great Thou Art’.  Originally a hymn from 1885 and based on a Swedish traditional melody, it seems to have been popularised over the years by the likes of everyone from Elvis Presley to Susan Boyle!  The most noteworthy track is, however, a rendering of the Bob Dylan anti-war song, ‘John Brown’, its powerful lyrics fronted by Pervis Staples.  In a move that might have been regarded as from the sublime to the ridiculous, for the 1967 ‘For What It’s Worth‘ album, the producer changed from Billy Sherrill to rock ‘n roller, Larry Williams.  While the bulk of the material remained sourced from Roebuck Staples, the title track revived the Stephen Stills-written Buffalo Springfield hit and perhaps was the first significant step towards the sounds of the secular pop/soul/folk the Staple Singers would morph towards.  Unfortunately - for this listener anyway - other ‘outside‘ songs included the awful ‘If I Had A Hammer’, despite a spirited Mavis-led performance but matters were redressed with a fine take on the oft-recorded ‘Wade In The Water‘ which, although credited to J.W. Alexander and Sam Cooke, in truth has much more traditional roots.  Larry Wiliams, despite producing an overall satisfactory set, only got one chance with the group and the job for their Epic Records‘ swansong was handed to Ted Cooper, notable soul-wise with overseeing some of Walter Jackson’s finest OKeh repertoire.  It is with the ‘What The World Needs Now Is Love‘ album that we really get the first major foretaste of what would be to come with their move to Stax at the end of 1968.  The material leans in a much closer direction to the secular - while retaining songs with generally meaningful lyrics.  Mavis is much more at the forefront - in fact, the version of ‘Crying In The Chapel‘ was issued on 45 as (just) by Mavis Staples - and really nails ‘A Place In The Sun‘ and ‘People Get Ready’.  Cooper handed the reins to Jerry Ragovoy for ‘Let’s Get Together’, which had twice been a pop hit for We Five and its 45 flip, ‘Power Of Love’, an upbeat Robert Bishop/Roebuck Staples opus and the set’s one bonus track.

review posted 23/10/18 /