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Picks and Pans Review: The Staple Singers

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The Staple Singers

Roebuck “Pops” Staples, 80, and his three daughters, Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne, have been singing together for more than 30 years and by this time are a living history lesson on the interrelationship between gospel music and pop. The Staples started out singing almost all gospel. Now they’re almost all secular, though it’s often a double entendre kind of secular, with a “he” who could just as well be a “He” at the focus of a lyric. They also tackle a lot of antiwar, antiselfishness, antibad-behavior-in-general songs and usually manage to make the messages seem palatable, backed as they are by passionate harmonies and earthy rhythms. This album includes Life During Wartime by the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who also plays guitar on one track. There’s a version of the 1970 Pacific Gas & Electric hit Are You Ready? and a slightly reggae-ized Reason to Love. David Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer shows up for semi-funky keyboard solos on a couple of tracks. The Staples do preach a little, but they do it in such a painless way-it’s more on the joyful side, actually—that it doesn’t test anyone’s patience. A group that was among the gospel-to-pop crossover pioneers, they’re still going strong. (Private I/CBS)