This has been quite a remarkable year for Mavis Staples.
In April, she released “We’ll Never Turn Back,” an album full of freedom songs old and new, produced by Ry Cooder. It’s one of the best albums of the year (and will make a swell gift for someone on your list).
In September, some of her earliest work with the Staple Singers was re-released.
“The 25th Day of December,” is a 1962 Christmas gospel album simply and elegantly sung by the Staples family — Roebuck (Pops), Mavis, Yvonne and Pervis — and accompanied by Pops on guitar, Maceo Woods on the organ and Al Duncan on drums. It was recorded in two days in late July 1962 at Universal Studios in Chicago.
At the time, the Staple Singers still were a gospel and folk group. This album was the Staples’ fifth album since their debut in 1959, and just their second on Riverside Records, a jazz label. It wasn’t until 1967 that they turned to more commercial R&B and soul.
The first two of tonight’s three selections come from “The 25th Day of December.”
“Go Tell It on the Mountain.” This is the traditional African-American spiritual, with an arrangement by Pops.
“There Was a Star.” This is an original, written by Pops and William Westbrook.
Both by the Staple Singers, from “The 25th Day of December,” 1962, re-released on CD, 2007.
Here’s still another traditional tune featuring Mavis Staples.
“Born in Bethlehem,” the Blind Boys of Alabama with Mavis Staples, from “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” 2003.
This album pairs the Blind Boys, one of America’s great gospel treasures, with an eclectic mix of duet partners. Some work great, like this one, on which Jimmy Carter has the lead vocal. Others less so. It’s largely a matter of personal taste.
It’s certainly worth checking out, though. The Blind Boys’ other duet partners: Robert Randolph, George Clinton, Michael Franti, Solomon Burke, Tom Waits, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Thompson, Aaron Neville, Shelby Lynne, Me’shell Ndegeocello and Les McCann.
We might circle back to this one. Until then, enjoy. More to come.