The Staple Singers Get Box Set Treatment With ‘Faith and Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976’ (ALBUM REVIEW)


As we move into 2016, it’s safe to say we could all use a little salvation after a year filled with a rise in white nationalistic hate rhetoric, bigotry, gun violence and terrorism. Salvation can come in many forms, yet music has always been one of the most effective remedies. This idea was a core philosophy of the Staple Singers, who dedicated their music and message to spreading love and to social change for the betterment of all people. Now, in a time when we need it once again, the most thorough document of the group’s music and mission has been released by Concord Music Group as a box set.


Spanning four discs and a 7”, Faith and Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976 gives an in-depth look at the music created by Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his children – Mavis, Cleotha, Pervis and Yvonne. What’s most fascinating is how each disc captures a distinctive period for the Staple Sings, as well as their musical progression. From the start of disc one we get the group’s early early gospel material, which is more stripped down and closer to faith. The massive talents of this father and his children can be heard on the spiritual “I’ve Got a New Home” with its incredible vocal synchronizing, and the eerie, gospel blues with twangy guitar – which was a hallmark of the group’s sound, especially in the early days – on “I Had a Dream” and “Don’t Drive Me Away”.

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Some of the Staple Singers’ biggest hits can be found on disc two, capturing a time when the group embraced a folkier sound that would ultimately influence a wave of artists such as Bob Dylan. To understand the impact of the Staple family on the folk movement, you need only hear their versions of “Will the Circle be Unbroken”, “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “This Land” (complete with a mean piano boogie), while the spoken word verse and bleak storyline make “Dying Man’s Plea” a true standout. It’s also hard not to appreciate the guitar playing on songs like “Great Day [Part 2]” with its understated presence and roots in Mississippi blues. The solo work interplaying with the group’s clapping is one of the finest moments in the set.

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Disc three finds the group getting more political as they moved into a time of radical ideas and major social change with the Civil Rights Movement taking place. Their work during this period is darker and more focused. Songs like “Masters of War”, “John Brown”, “It’s Been A Change”, “Long Walk To D.C.”, and the blunt yet musically upbeat “Got To Be Some Changes Made” waste no time in trying to sugarcoat the messages they convey. The group’s lyrics aimed at fighting a hate-filled world often contrasted with upbeat soul cuts, giving the music a feeling of optimism as if this is a fight that can be won. “Slow Train” may be the culmination of this and a song that is hard not to tear up to when listening. Over a simple guitar riff, drawn-out organ and emotional string section, the group sings “It’s a slow, slow train, but it’s moooooovin’ on”, telling us that change may take a while, but we just need to be patient.

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Whereas disc three is an at times grim period in terms of the Staple Singers reflecting on the upheaval all around them, disc four hits you with “I See It”, a simple song examining the idea that we can all get along after all. It was this period in the early 70’s when the Staple Singers would drop one of their biggest hits, “Respect Yourself”, a quintessential comment on the empowerment that came after the success of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a time of holding your head up high, being proud, and injecting attitude into the music that would come out as funk and soul.

Faith and Grace is an essential collection of songs from one of America’s most vital musical groups. It also raises the question of whether there will ever be another act capable of using music as such a powerful instrument of change. Sorry Macklemore, but I’ve yet to see one as important as the Staple Singers. Is it even possible to have such a clear purpose in a time when we all face a deluge of information coming at us from every angle? Luckily, this new box set is proof that, even in 2016, the message and power of the Staple Singers is not only loud and clear, but may be more relevant than ever.

Faith and Grace: A Family Journey 1953-1976 is out now on Concord Music Group

Image courtesy of ABC via Getty Images

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