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The Staple Singers: Uncloudy Day (Charly CPCD 8087)

Some instrumentalists carve their way into our souls, not by raw skill but by creating a sound world of surpassing richness and integrity. A tone, a mode of phrasing, and - more recently - also via their particular incorporation of an electronic effect...although, in this case, the effect was electrical - rather than electronic - and built into most amplifiers. Yes...I’m talking about tremelo, here - tremelo and Pop Staples. Seldom were two so well-matched...

Pop Staples still leads the Staple Singers, his daughters and he form a breathtakingly beautiful vocal group...and yet, the frame, the ground on which they stand are Pop’s elegantly simple filigrees, shimmering around a guitar style purely Mississippi hill country in its soul. At their most driven, his chuntering rhythms recall another great son of those climes, Mississippi Fred McDowall, with a lean Lightnin’ rockabilly touch. But - mostly - he throbs...and revealed something then new in the world - a way of accentuating the space in blues playing, which has influenced just about every electric guitarist to follow him. Mentioning no names, now - but John Fogarty, in particular, absorbed this lesson whole, albeit he’d be the last to deny that one/not to mention the burr he got from evident on “I Had a Dream”...

Pop learned guitar from Charlie Patton, too - no kidding - albeit he never recorded before the mid-fifties, with the family group. And this beautiful selection picks the finest of that fifties work, a counterpart to rock’n’roll of the day that was to have enormous influence in the bastard tradition. Pops’ guitar throbs, the singers soar & rock, the sometime drummer locks in minimal mode...and the weirdest thing, it’s as if we had aready heard much has it influenced.

Perhaps my favourite is “Will the Circle be Unbroken” - touched as it is by Pop’s gentle lead vocal (unadorned on the verses) - although the archetypical space of “Uncloudy Day” itself, their first gospel hit, is far, far too hard to go past...not to mention the cooly-rockin’ “Going Away”, or the one the Stones borrowed “It May Be the Last Time”... And what of the undiluted reach of “So Soon”?

(or, indeed, the almost seven minutes of “I’m Coming Home” antiphonal heaven, by any estimation)

Influence, indeed, be damned. Cause the reason you need to hear this are legion...and “influence” comes well down the list. The Staples, at their peak, created one of the great musics, complete in itself, which amply demands your attention, irrespective of their formative role on later musics. Just try...

John Henry Calvinist