Throughout the distinct phases of their recording career, from straight rhythmic gospel to Civil Rights protest anthems, to what might be called soul folk to the funky grit of their Stax years, the Staple Singers always delivered songs that said something, and even when the grooves of songs like 1971's "Respect Yourself" or 1972's reggae-tinged "I'll Take You There" were sending people to the dancefloors, the lyrics were hopeful, message-driven missives of support for a better self, a better community, and a better world. Stax Profiles is a fine anthology which collects tracks recorded between 1968 and 1975 during the Staple Singers productive stay at Stax Records, and includes both "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There," as well as the powerful "City in the Sky," "Touch a Hand, Make a Friend," "Are You Sure," with its brilliantly staggered vocals, and the Steve Cropper produced "Long Walk to D.C." There isn't a single lame track here, and while there are lengthier collections of the Staple Singers' Stax years on the market, this one has a wonderful flow.
Baden Powell, a renowned guitarist in a nation of guitarists, here plays both solo and in trio, and which you prefer will depend on whether you more value rhapsodic freedom or focused tightness. Either way this is a celebrated recording by a phenomenal artist, and long unavailable.
On the first Cotillon album, singer/songwriter Jordan Corso worked with JR White of Girls fame to craft a fairly lush version of what Jad Fair might sound like if backed by a super-competent band of indie rockers. Corso's plaintive, homespun vocals contrasted well with the expansive music, but at times it felt like an ill fit. The second Cotillon album, 2017's The Afternoons, presents a course correction that sees Corso working with producer Shane Butler and a smaller group of musicians. Gone are horns, layers of guitars, and any traces of slickness. Instead, Corso's winning vocals and tales of life are delivered in much scrappier fashion. The guitars are wiry and tough, the rhythm section is recorded live and lively, and the occasional synths drop in to make some noise. Like the first album, the songs are stories and Corso comes across as a lovable guy, with a little more romantic success this time. While most of the tracks lope along calmly in fine post-Pavement slacker style -- both fast like on "Secret" and slow and shambly as on "10 Dish Set" -- Corso mixes in a few changeups to keep it interesting. The vocoder-sung ballad "Promises 2" is a real curveball; the motorik groove of "SFO" is another one that gives the album an energy boost right when it needs it.
The snappy pop tune "Fang" is a tiny pop gem that's likely to be the mixtape pick of Beat Happening fans who are lucky enough to discover the record. It comes together really nicely in the end, with Corso sounding more at home in the stripped-down arrangements, and the album is a definite improvement over the band's debut.