The Staple Singers,
The 25th Day of December
(Riverside, 1962; Concord, 2007)

Those of us who actually remember the early 1970s will recognize the Staple Singers from such hits as "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." But the musical family had been releasing albums for more than a decade when those two tunes climbed the charts. This Christmas production was recorded in Chicago in late July 1962, for the Riverside label. Now the Concord Music Group has reissued The 25th Day of December, with a sound that will take you back to a simpler time.

Roebuck "Pops" Staples vocalizes here with son Pervis and daughters Mavis and Yvonne. True to their Mississippi gospel roots, the foursome offers us 12 thoughtful spirituals. Full of the meaningful joy of the season, the melodies are most often slow and measured, with one person taking the lead and the other three providing backup harmonies. You'll find yourself swaying in rhythm to songs like "The Last Month of the Year," "The Virgin Mary Had One Son," "Go Tell It on the Mountain," "The Savior Is Born," "Sweet Little Jesus Boy," "No Room at the Inn," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Wasn't That a Mighty Day" and "Silent Night."

Included are two songs penned by "Pops" himself: "Holy Unto the Lord" and "There Was a Star." "Joy to the World" is as bouncy as they venture, and the group erupts with clapping in the instrumental organ interlude. (And if it isn't a Hammond organ, then it was surely wrested out from behind a pulpit somewhere.) "Pops" plays a simple guitar line, accompanied by Maceo Woods on organ and Al Duncan on drums. Listening to this CD is like eavesdropping on the holiday service of a backroad Baptist church, back in the day.

Though marketed as being "digitally mastered," the recording carries the same two-channel format that it invariably originated with. For each song, the lead singer is on one track and everyone else is on the other. Most of the time, the leader's voice emanates from the right-hand speaker. Only four songs ("Joy to the World," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Wasn't That a Mighty Day" and "Silent Night") have that arrangement reversed. Chalk up that format to the low-budget production style of the early 1960s. We're probably lucky to have this music at all.

The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, just one year before "Pops" Staples passed away. This early recording aptly shows their commitment to music and their four-part harmonies at work.

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review by
Corinne H. Smith

15 December 2007

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