The Staple Singers' early experimental efforts with Stax
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When the Staple Singers signed with Stax in 1968, they had moved through three record labels (VeeJay, Riverside & Epic) in 12 years singing pure gospel, then folk-influenced protest songs and were heading for commercial breakthrough with a more pop based r&b sound. Their first two albums with Stax, "Soul Folk In Action" (SFIA) and "We'll Get Over" (WGO) didn't exactly catch fire and it wasn't until their third album that they scored their first big pop hit with "Heavy Makes Me Happy". And it isn't hard to see why. These first two albums were largely experimental efforts at achieving a more commercial sound and the irony is that SFIA is a far more laudable if not yet definitive effort by the Staples compared to WGO. There are wonderful gospelly things in there that still stand tall today, such as "Long Walk To DC", "Slow Train", "I See It", "Got To Be Some Changes" and "Top Of The Mountain" and even on a slice of white soul like Delaney & Bonnie's "We've Got To Get Ourselves Together", they sound terrific. Mavis is in awesome vocal form throughout. "Dock Of The Bay" and "The Weight" are acceptable though not distinctive covers. What is surprising and disappointing is their lack of progress with their follow up album, which apart from nuggets like "We'll Get Over" and the critically acclaimed "When Will We Get Paid", is curiously unfocussed and consists mainly of throwaway covers, the worst examples being that of familiar hits by Joe South, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Sly and the Family Stone. Thank God they hit pay dirt on their third outing with Stax or they might have been dropped and we wouldn't have the legacy of their great 70s recordings to enjoy. This 2 in 1 album is essential for big fans (like me) of the Staple Singers but it's not the best place to start for newcomers."