The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers

The 25th Day of December

Riverside Records

The dirty little secret about me and Christmas music is that I prefer it to be as gaudy and secular as possible – give me Andy Williams (in his prime) and his five brothers all stuffed into tight-fitting green Christmas sweaters booming out “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” surrounded by couples frugging it up in Victorian winter wear as the snow machine goes into overdrive and I’m happy as a clam. The true “reason for the season” has long eluded me sonically. That said, let me just say that this first-time reissue of the Staple Singers 1960s Christmas album, is much more apt to make me a believer than a whole phalanx of live Nativity scenes and/or tuneless versions of that creepy “Christmas Shoes” number. It’s deep, deep reverent gospel, with a chorus of immaculate human voices and an undeniable boogie sneaking in through the back door. What you aren’t going to get are any songs about Santa, snowmen, stockings, reindeer, mistletoe, and the Grinch.

What you are going to get is an impressive mix of well-known songs sure to get any Christmas Eve service ramped up – Silent Night, Joy To The World, O Little Town of Bethlehem – combined with less well-known traditional numbers – Sweet Little Jesus Boy, Wasn’t That A Mighty Day – and even a “Pops” Staples original in “There Was A Star.” Suffice to say, any fan of gospel music or Christian ideology is going to rejoice at the Staples’ Christmas priorities being firmly in the right place. But don’t worry, there’s plenty for those of us who prefer to check out some gaudy Christmas lights instead of the late night service on December 24th. The performances are fucking incredible – with the conviction in these voices, you can see why Nick Cave briefly flirted with Christianity – Mavis fucking rocks it at every opportunity, showing how she was leagues above everyone else at the time – gospel or secular – and Pops’ voice is like a fragile glass sculpture, high and quavery, but still so deceptively strong. And some of these songs just smolder, baby – wait a second, is it okay to say that Christmas songs smolder? Those shuffling soft shoe drums, that flickering organ, the immaculately reverbed guitar that would make the Cramps/Jesus and Mary Chain jealous. Oh yeah, and as the inside cover photo shows, Pops Staples was playing the same guitar that J. Masics from Dinosaur Jr. plays. Go tell it on the mountain indeed.

Riverside/Concord: www.concordmusicgroup.com

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