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.
Love's stay on the Blue Thumb label for a couple of albums in the late '60s and early '70s wouldn't be rated by anyone as the high point in the band's career. Still, for those who want that material, this three-CD set includes both of the albums they released with the company, Out Here and False Start, as well as -- in what will be the big draw for collectors -- nearly an hour of previously unreleased recordings, all taped live in England in 1970. Though the two studio albums have their admirers, many Love fans find them frustrating listening, as they stack up poorly against the superior LPs they cut in the '60s, particularly their first three. Much of leader and principal singer/songwriter Arthur Lee's gift for melodic, idiosyncratic folk-rock with touches of flamenco, jazz, punky R&B and show tunes is still in evidence, but the songs simply aren't as strong or fully developed. As for his composing skills (though not his singing ones), it almost feels as though you're listening to a recuperating stroke victim -- some of the skillful thoughts and ideas are coming through, but only between cracks and in bits and pieces. There's also a disturbing bent toward hard rock that doesn't suit Lee's strengths (especially on False Start), and while the rest of Love are competent players, they don't push or complement Lee in the same way the original version of the band did in the mid-'60s. The live recordings that conclude the set aren't bad , and the sound quality's OK (though not perfect). In this concert segment, Lee and the band sing and play pretty well on songs spanning their entire career to that point, including a few ("My Little Red Book," "Orange Skies," "Andmoreagain," "Signed D.C.," and "Bummer in the Summer") from the earliest and most celebrated phase of their career. Those numbers are performed pretty credibly, albeit with a slight strange lisp on some of Lee's vocals. But as a whole the live arrangements are more likely to fly into pedestrian hard rock riffing than the early Love would, though more often than not those tendencies are kept in check.
It all adds up to an anthology that will appeal to some hardcore Love fans, but isn't one of the first places to start to appreciate the band's legacy.
The "walls" referred to in this album's title are the artificial boundaries between jazz, classical and World Music. David Amram (heard here on piano, French horn, guitar, flutes and percussion) has long been a pioneer in crossing between genres. With altoist Jerry Dodgion, baritonist Pepper Adams, and an oversized rhythm section, plus an oud, viola, dumbeg and five percussionists (including Candido), Amram performs seven of his diverse compositions, two of which also have vocalists.