Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Staples Singers - Freedom Highway

The Staples Singers were a recording and performing gospel group for a number of years prior to this 1965 recording, but here - in the complete service - the Singers give an entire gospel service in honor, support and celebration of that year's historic civil rights marches. Previously released as a 12" LP, this CD expands to include the full service and all of the number and talking/preaching originally involved in the service.

Here Pops, Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis Staples are supplemented by Al Duncan on drums and Phil Upchurch on bass. The tunes are heartfelt and uplifting, from the rousing opener, "When the Saints Go Marching In", to the Hank Williams recitation, "The Funeral" (Pops doing the lead while the rest give a wonderful backing), to Marvis' showcases on "Build On That Shore" and "We Shall Overcome" - the rallying call of the civil rights movement - with plenty of audience participation.

The emotional "Freedom Highway" was written about the legendary march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery and dedicated to the marchers and is a gospel stomper and an excellent tune. This is followed by a fine, slow, gospel/blues "What You Gonna Do?" and then Marvis stretches out for a marvelous "Precious Lord, Take My Hand", with a performance worthy of Aretha Franklin or Mahalia Jackson. Pops and the rest do a call'n'answer in a cool, bluesy "When I'm Gone" and then he begins "Help Me Jesus" with some preachin'n'recollectin' before it moves into a rollickin', rompin', clappin'n'stompin' number.

There is a bit of an intermission as the reverend passes the collection plate and the Staples hawk their latest wares before they return with a slow groover, "Jesus is All" (somewhat reminiscent of their earlier "Wish I Had Answered"). A great take on the classic "Samson and Delilah" (their latest single at the time) and then a slow ballad, "View the Holy City", some more preachin' in "Tell Heaven" that blends into another uptempo clap-along "He's All Right", that gives Mavis one more time to impress.

Absolutely terrific gospel record from masters of the field - highly recommended!