If the wonderful SoulMusic records’ box set of the complete Epic recordings of the Staples Singers whetted your appetite, then this single CD compilation takes a step backwards in time and covers the period between 1953 and 1961 when the group were gaining a national reputation for the excellence of their singles. Pared down blues and gospel is what the Staples offer up and even with sometimes just piano and/or guitar to accompany, those distinctive vocal harmonies are already in place. That is the case of ‘Won’t You Sit Down’, which opens out into a piano-led number. With twenty-six songs in total, a variety of labels come to the fore, with Gospel, Sharp, United and Veejay all prominent and discerning promoters of 1950s gospel music at that, frequently labels created from the Chicago stable. What impresses with this pre-Riverside and Epic era of Staples Singers songs, is the extent to which the lyrics are embellished by the sound of Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples’ blues guitar, often beefed up by period produced echo. That makes the overall sound on songs such as ‘If I Could Hear My Mother’ and ‘Uncloudy Day’, all the more appealing.
While the espousal of Civil Rights issues was still around the corner, the message behind many of the songs is all-encompassing such as the welcoming hues of ‘It Rained Children’. Of the standards revisited, ‘Swing Low’ is heard in two separate renditions, with the Gospel label take adopting a slower tempo that enables the blues to have a far great input. That said, on the 1958 Vee-Jay interpretation, the guitar playing of Roebuck is more prominent, and in some ways more impassioned. Both versions, then, have their individual merits. Elsewhere, it is the throaty female vocals of Clovis and Mavis that lend an exceptional hand to ‘Love Is The Way’. This is a priceless set of sings and great value at just under eighty minutes. A fine way to complete your Staple Singers essentials of the later years.