The last time I reviewed an album by The Staple Singers was their 1972 album, Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, their most successful album, which included I’ll Take You There. It reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts, giving them their second US R&B number one single. However, a lot would happen to The Staple Singers over the next ten years. In 1975, their record label Stax folded, leaving The Staple Singers looking for a new label. They then signed for Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label, where Let’s Do It Again reached number one in both the US Billboard 100 and US R&B Charts. After releasing just one album for Curtom, Let’s Do It Again, The Staple Singers changed labels again, releasing three albums for Warner Bros. between 1976 and 1978 and then one apiece for 20th Century and a newly reformed Stax in 1981. Then disaster struck for The Staple Singers in 1982, when they found themselves without a record deal, with the group believing that their age was a factor. Then, the label-less Staple Singers received a break in 1984, when they were signed by Private I Records, formed by Joseph Isgro, originally in partnership with CBS. Now that The Staple Singers had a new label, they’d begin writing and recording what would become Turning Point, which was rereleased by SoulMusic.Com on 26th January 2012. Turning Point was aptly titled, representing a turning point in the musical direction and sound, with The Staple Singers incorporating new ideas and instruments on the album’s eight tracks. Before I tell you about the music on Turning Point, I’ll tell you about the background to the album.

Now that The Staple Singers had signed their new recording contract, set about finding material and musicians for what would be their twenty-fifth album since their 1959 debut album Uncloudy Day. Eventually, eight tracks were chosen, including This Is Our Night, a track co-written by Mike Piccirillo and Gary Goetzman, previously a member of Chocolate Milk, who’d been hired by Private I to work with the group. One of the leftfield choices of songs was Slippery People, a Talking Heads track, with David Byrne laying down some funky guitars licks. Among the other tracks, Mack Rice wrote That’s What Friends Are For, Homer Banks and Carl Hampton cowrote Bridges Instead of Walls and L.J. McNally cowrote The Turning Point. With the eight songs chosen for Turning Point, recording would begin.

Recording of Turning Point took place at two studios. Six tracks on Turning Point were co-produced by Pervis Staples and experienced engineer Henry Bush at Memphis’ Ardent Recording Studios. Among the musicians who recorded the six songs were some of Memphis’ best session musicians. This included a familar face from The Staples Singers’ Stax days, former Bar Kays guitarist Michael Toles. The other two tracks, Slippery People and This Is Our Night were co-produced by Mike Piccirillo and Gary Goetzman at Can-Am Recorders in Tarzana, California. Now that the eight tracks that would become Turning Point were recorded, the album would be released later in 1984.

When Turning Point was released in 1984, it reached number forty-three in the US R&B Charts. Three singles were released from the album, with H.A.T.E. (Don’t Live Here Anymore) reaching number forty-six in the US R&B Charts. The second single Slippery People, a cover of a Talking Heads track, became a hit in clubs, reaching number four in the Top Dance Music/Club Singles Play Charts and number twenty-two in the US R&B Charts. This Is Our Night was the final single released from Turning Point, reaching number fifty in the US R&B Charts. Overall, The Staple Singers’ new sound on Turning Point had proved successful, but what does it sound like? That’s what I’ll now tell you.

Opening Turning Point is This Is Our Night, the third single released from the album, and one of two tracks co-produced by Mike Piccirillo and Gary Goetzman. This is an uptempo track, joyous sounding track, that has so much going for it. With Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne’s vocals accompanied by punchy drums, a wash of synths and the sultriest of saxophone solos that drifts in and out of the track, The Staple Singers produce music that’s contemporary and dance floor friendly. Add to that Pops vocal that makes an occasional appearance, providing a complete contrast the other three Staple Singers. However, what makes this one of the album’s highlights is the emotion, joy and passion in Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne’s vocals.

Back in 1972, when The Staple Singers released Be Altitude: Respect Yourself, they’d never envisage working with someone like David Byrne, never mind recording one of his tracks. Chalk and Cheese is the phrase that springs to mind. Twelve years later, music had changed, with The Staple Singer metaphorically and literally, reaching a Turning Point. Hence, the four Staple Singers and David Byrne in a California studio collaborating on Slippery People, which would turn The Staple SIngers into the doyen of clubland across America. The track has a classic eighties sound of synths and of drums, before Mavis vocal enters, accompanied by David Byrne’s funky guitar licks. Quickly, the vocal changes hands, Pops entering, while the rest of the group contribute joyous backing vocals. When the vocal drops out, a pounding bass and David’s frantic, funky riffs take over. From there the track reclaims its earlier joyful, sound when The Staple Singers do what they do best. For four minutes, you’re taken on a journey back to 1984, with some classic eighties dance-music, when Pops, Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne met David Byrne, and created a mini-musical masterpiece.

Bridges Instead Of Walls was co-written by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton who’d previously written so many classic tracks. Here, Mavis takes centre-stage, delivering one of her trademark heartfelt and fervent vocals. This she does against an arrangement that’s like her vocal, is steeped in drama. The arrangement sees the past and present unite, with the rhythm section combining with eighties synths and keyboards. Meanwhile, Chris Redding lays down some soaring guitar solos, while keyboards augment the guitar. Parts of the track contain a real vintage Staple Singers sound, and you’d be able to guess this was one of their songs. However, good as the arrangement is, Mavis steals the show, with a vocal that’s dramatic, and impassioned and heartfelt in its delivery.

When The Turning Point opens, is a mid-tempo track, combining an eighties sounding arrangement with elements of soul and funk. As the track opens, it’s synths and a rhythm section that sprinkles some funk that combine, before the soulful strains of The Staple SIngers, singing their trademark four part harmonies. Cleo, Pops, Mavis and Yvonne’s vocals compliment each other perfectly, with the vocal changing hands as the song progresses. Meanwhile the other three Staple Singers produce passionate and powerful backing vocals, which is reflected in the arrangement. When taken together, the result is a perfect example of what The Staple Singers having been doing so well since 1959, making music that’s full of emotion, passion and….soul.

As Right Decision unfolds, Pops Staples becomes a philosopher, pondering the questions people make in life. This he does against a wash of synths and drums, his vocal quite different from on other tracks. His vocal has a more contemporary style, and when Mavis enters, her vocal is deliver in sassy style. The arrangement is perfect for the track, the synths and drums, joined by a soaring, dramatic and crystalline solo from Chris Redding. Add to this punchy backing vocals, thoughtful, probing lyrics and a tempo of 125 beats per minute and the result is a philosophical, dance-track featuring the glorious vocals of The Staple Singers.

H-A-T-E (Don’t Live Here Anymore) was the first single released from Turning Point. It opens with a combination of synths, the rhythm section and fast, funky, chiming guitars, before Pops vocal enters. There’s a real eighties sound to the track, while the bass and guitar add some funk. Later, a wash of synths enter, as the other Staple Singers contribute backing vocalists, with Mavis’ powerful vocal soaring high. Augmenting this are some of the best guitar sounds on the album. Key to the success of this track, are the lyrics, which when Pops delivers them, makes you take notice. Add to this the soulful strains of Mavis, Cleo and Yvonne and you’ve got a song with an important message, one that will always be relevant.

The slowest and probably saddest song on Turning Point is On My Own Again. Again, Mavis takes over the lead vocal, demonstrating her beauty and emotion, while her delivery is heartfelt and moving. When the song opens, it’s a combination of power and drama, with the experience of the musicians shining through. With the rhythm section, percussion, piano and the lushest of sad strings combining, they’re joined the Mavis’ vocal. It’s raw, powerful and full of sadness and regret, as Cleo and Yvonne contribute backing vocals, as one the best tracks unfolds. Together, one of the best arrangements on Turning Point and Mavis’ vocal make this song a joy to behold.

Closing That’s What Friends Are For written by Mack Rice. The tempo increases, with the song very different from the preceding track. One thing it has in common is a quality vocal from Mavis. This she delivers an arrangement that has a real eighties sound, because of the combination of synths, keyboards and drums. However, this works, still sounding good nearly thirty years later, when combined with the power and passion of Mavis’ vocal. She sings of how she believes unquestionably, in unconditional love, while the rest of the group contribute backing vocals. Given the subject matter of the lyrics, and the sincerity in her voice, this is the perfect track to close Turning Point, The Staple Singers twenty-fifth studio album.

Although The Staple Singers career may have been at a real turning point when they found themselves with no record contract, due to record companies believing they were too old, they proved that this was far from the case. They grabbed the opportunity offered by the Private I label, and produced Turning Point, an album full of some hugely soulful music, with a contemporary twist. In some ways, they’d to reinvent themselves, making their music appealing to a new generation of music fans, who maybe, weren’t aware of their musical history. This they did, collaborating with David Byrne on Slippery People, which turned The Staple Singers into club sensations, with a new generation dancing to their music. Their new sound embraced the changes in music, embracing synths and Fairlights on Turning Point. However, some things didn’t change, with their music still featured the familiar sound of horns, strings and a tight rhythm section. On Turning Point, Mavis Staples especially, is at her very best, delivering her vocals using a combination of power, passion and emotion, judging her delivery perfectly. Whether it was joyous or heartfelt deliver, Mavis carried it peerlessly. That’s not to say Turning Point was just about Mavis. Quite the opposite Cleo, Pops and Yvonne all played their part in making Turning Point such a great album, with some compelling and timeless music on it. Turning Point was rereleased on 26th January 2012, by SoulMusic.Com and their rerelease features five bonus tracks. These include alternate versions of the singles Slippery People and H-A-T-E (Don’t Live Here Anymore), plus Can You Hang, a single which wasn’t on Turning Point. All this, plus the eight songs on Turning Point make this a very welcome rerelease of an album released when The Staple Singers themselves found their career at a turning point. Standout Tracks: Slippery People, Bridges Instead Of Walls, H-A-T-E (Don’t Live Here Anymore) and On My Own Again. 


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