Pops Staples, Don’t Lose This (Anti, 2015)
Originally posted 11 October 2015.
Roebuck "Pops" Staples (1914–2000) died before completing the album Don’t Lose This — the title enshrining his instructions to his daughter Mavis about the importance of these, his last recordings. Prophetically, in “Sweet Home,” he sings, “Before this time another year, I may be dead and gone.”
Mavis waited fifteen years to complete Don’t Lose This, and received production help from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Five of the tracks feature Mavis and her sisters Cleotha and Yvonne on backup vocals, including “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” the first song Pops taught his family to sing. On half of the numbers, Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer contribute drum, bass and/or guitar.
Notwithstanding the strength of these contributions, my favorite song is a Pops Staples solo performance of his composition “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” Pops’ age, 84, adds extra weight to his confessional singing, and his signature guitar playing stands out.
Writing for Premier Guitar, Michal Ross comments on the significance of Pops’ guitar style:
"Whenever you hear country blues-inflected guitar played through an amp with tremolo, you’re hearing a sound descended from singer/composer/guitarist Pops Staples. Best known as the leader of a family gospel group, the Staple Singers, his guitar style influenced and inspired John Fogerty, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder, and countless others. The dark mystery of his instrument’s wavy sound has become part of the fabric of American music."
At the end of “Sweet Home,” Pops ask Mavis how the record sounds, and Mavis responds, “I think it's good, Daddy.” The only thing left to say is "Amen."