Although not as well known as their later recordings for the Stax, Riverside and Epic labels, the Staple Singers' early sides for Chicago's Vee Jay Records may well be the most powerful they ever did. Driven by Pops Staples' stark, Delta-infused guitar style all awash in eerie reverb and given a laser-like urgency by Mavis Staples' amazing singing, the Vee Jay cuts are balanced right at the juncture of country blues and gospel, and the tension between the two genres gives this material an amazingly powerful presence, evoking a twilight world caught between the secular and the sacred. The best of these sides, like the kinetic "Calling Me," the insistent "Don't Drive Me Away" and the spooky "Downward Road" have an ominous, edgy tone that is unlike anything else in the gospel world, and one gets the feeling that the Staples are putting everything out on the line with every note. Gospel on this level is almost terrifying. This two-disc set collects most of the Staples' output for Vee Jay between 1955 and 1961, and while these selections are a good deal more basic and primitive than the soul funk productions the Staples would embrace later in the decade, they're no less powerful, and in their jagged sparseness they rattle out of the speakers like feral lightning. Never has gospel sounded so scary and determined.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2