The Staples Singers 

Uncloudy Day

The Staples Singers were never your typical gospel group. They remain one of the few ensembles to cross over into the pop and R&B mainstream without completely leaving behind their hallowed, deep-South roots, all the while absorbing influences from pop/rock and funk. In the 1970s, the Staples had twelve chart hits for Stax ("I'll Take You There" was the biggest) and a number one hit in '75 with "Let's Do It Again," on Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label. And even though their down-home, positive sound was rendered unfashionable by the hedonistic disco boom, they managed to bounce back in the '80s with a cover of Talking Heads' "Slippery People."

Uncloudy Day is a reissue of an album originally released in 1959 on the legendary Vee-Jay label, and it's truly incredible, at times sounding like a late-night radio transmission from Planet Mississippi. There's absolutely no pop sheen here whatsoever; just five voices harmonizing, wailing, sighing, and testifying, accompanied by Pops Staples' Delta-blues-drenched electric guitar. His instrument sounds like something you might hear on a John Lee Hooker record, but more so -- as stark, feral, trebly, snaking, and precise as damnation. Mavis Staples' possessed, slightly raspy alto was likely an influence on Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, and Tina Turner, and the vivid, sanctified group harmonies sound as far away as the heavens yet as close as the music you think you hear on windy, sleepless nights. If you need proof that someone can sway and pray at the same time, one listen to the sinister-sounding "I'm Leaving" and "I Had a Dream" should convince you.

A note to heathens: One need not be a believer to partake. This music conveys committed, fervent devotion, not self-righteous, worldly dogma.


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