Staple Singers – 1973 – Be What You Are
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Mr.Moo kindly offers us another Stax classic.
The Staple Singers enjoyed a brief spell when their popularity reached beyond the Soul fraternity and into the Pop charts and thus they are well known for a few classic singles. One of those appears here, “If You’re Ready(Come and Go with Me)” and it gives you an idea of the quality contained in this album.
With a resolutely Southern Soul feel, this represents the best album the Staples ever recorded. While it seemed the rest of the Stax roster were busy extending the boundaries of Black music, the Staples kept faith with the elements of the music which had elevated the label to pre-eminance in the 60’s. So you won’t find overblown orchestration, or proto-disco here. What you will find are magnificent lead vocals (Mavis Staples has few equals), superb harmonies, and production which lets those voices take centre stage.
The Staples also kept faith with their Gospel roots, and there are a couple of tracks here that fit that profile – “If you’re Ready” is essentially Gospel and “Heaven” has an ambiguous lyric which could be secular, but which in Mavis’ hands must be a hymn to her God.
Stand out tracks are many, their version of Grandma’s Hands for example is excellent and “the aformentioned “Heaven” is exactly that. But I would recommend this in it’s entirety as an example of Soul at it’s 70’s best and as a musical counterpoint to the way some of their contemporaries were developing Black music.
This is a @320 vinyl rip (supplied by Mr.Moo) of the original Stax Records LP including covers
A1 Be What You Are 5:03
A2 If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me) 4:29
A3 Love Comes in All Colors / Tellin’ Lies 8:51
A4 Touch a Hand (Make a Friend) 4:04
A5 Drown Yourself 4:38
B1 I Ain’t Raisin’ No Sand 6:33
B3 Bridges Instead of Walls 4:04
B4I’m on Your Side 4:00
B5 That’s What Friends Are For 4:16
B6 Heaven 3:36
The smash succes of ‘Be Altitude: Respect Yourself‘ gave The Staple Singers a blueprint from which to work: Muscle Shoals groovin’, gospelfide harmonies and political lyrics.
The optimistic title-track “Be What You Are” picks up where “Respect Yourself” left off: an anthemic, self-empowering song about taking pride in who and what you are; the magazine advertisement for the single showed a black construction worker smiling, staring proudly into the camera. A superb, gospel rock ‘n’ roller with some very Duane Allman-ish guitar hooks.
Reprising their super hit “I’ll Take You There”, “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me” is set to that same irresistible, lazy groove. What sets it apart from its predecessor is the use of folksy, acoustic guitars and simmering strings. A gem.
The scene gets a little more brooding with the 9-minute medley “Love Comes in All Colors/Tellin’ Lies“, a funky bit of testifyin’ wrapped in Alabama country soul. Great arrangements throughout that never get over the top.
Joyful sounds return with the sweet, uplifiting “Touch a Hand (Make a Friend)“, but that slightly menacing, hauntingly bluesy vibe reappears on the solid funker “Drown Yourself” and it reaches a climax on the super political “I Ain’t Raisin’ no Sand“, with its sober string arrangement and Pops’ understated lead vocal.
The overall message of the album remains strongly optimistic; the slightly Carribic “Bridges Instead of Walls” and the insanely funky “That’s What Friends Are For” (NOT the Dionne Warwick song!) are unabashed feel-good tunes.
‘Be What You Are’ is completed with some very touching, gentle, ballad-styled, folksy soul pieces: Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” fits the family like a glove; “I’m on Your Side” shows the most sensitive side of Mavis and the album’s grand finale, “Heaven“, is simply achingly beautiful, both in its vocal delivery as in its ethereal arrangements.