The Five Stairsteps had been regularly landing songs on the R&B charts for four years before they scored their first Top 40 pop hit in 1070 with "O-o-h Child," which turned out to be a mixed blessing -- while it opened them up to a larger audience, it was different enough from their earlier singles that it ended up faring better on pop radio than R&B, and it was their last Top 40 single as well as their first, a success they were unable to repeat. "O-o-h Child" appeared on the group's second LP for Buddah Records, a 1970 release simply titled Stairsteps, and this reissue from Real Gone Music includes that album in full as well as the act's Buddah debut, 1967's Our Family Portrait, and the two LPs unwittingly reveal how much the Stairsteps changed during the three years that separated the two releases. The Five Stairsteps were very much a family act, with five siblings forming the core of the group (Clarence Burke, Jr., Alohe Burke, James Burke, Dennis Burke, and Keni Burke) and their father playing bass and singing lead on a few tunes. On Our Family Portrait there's a sense that the group wanted to give each member a bit of the spotlight of his own, as well as playing something for everyone, from the polished sweet soul of "A Million to One" to the moody and lovelorn "Something's Missing" to the novelty of "New Dance Craze" (featuring Cubie Burke, then just three years old, on vocals) and the smooth supper club vocals of Clarence Sr. on "Windows of the World." On Our Family Portrait, the Five Stairsteps sound like seasoned professionals who knew how to please a crowd; that carries through to Stairsteps, though in 1970 the band was trying harder to sound hip. The album opens with two Beatles covers, "Getting Better" and "Dear Prudence," which sound at once soulful and faithful to the originals, and Clarence Burke, Jr., who co-produced the sessions and wrote most of the songs even though he was only in his teens, had a knack for fusing rock and soul, and cuts like "Vice the Lights" sound like a poppier version of Sly & the Family Stone. It's significant that "O-o-h Child" was brought to the group by an outside songwriter, since it sounds a good bit different than the rest of the songs on Stairsteps; while the group's performance is excellent and the song was a hit for a good reason, this disc shows it was an anomaly in their catalog, though there's plenty here that fans of late-'60s/early-'70s soul and R&B will enjoy. This reissue also includes three bonus single-only tracks, including an unexpected cover of Steppenwolf's "America."
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming