CD Review of The 25th Day of December by The Staple Singers
Recommended if you like
Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke
Label
Riverside
The Staple Singers:
The 25th Day of December

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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T
he Staple Singers did not play no rock and roll. No sir, they were practitioners of soul – gospel soul, to be precise, which is why having them record a Christmas album made all kinds of sense in 1962, and why, if you’re one of those for whom the holiday season is about more than gifts and tinsel, The 25th Day of December will come as a blessed reprieve from the seemingly endless cavalcade of shitty yuletide tunes.

The Staple Singers were Stax artists – this is being released as part of Concord’s Stax reissue campaign – and musically, December fits right in with any of the label’s other classic releases, offering a wonderfully minimalist take on a dozen (mostly public domain) holiday songs. Aside from Roebuck (a.k.a. “Pops”), Mavis, Yvonne, and Pervis Staples’ signature vocal blend, the sonic palette is limited to Al Duncan’s spare drumming, Pops’ rhythm guitar, and Maceo Woods’ choogling organ. It’s really more of a gospel album than a Christmas album; if not for the artwork and title, you could almost forget what you’re listening to – which is a good thing, by the way. Many holiday collections aspire to year-round playlist status, but The 25th Day of December is one of the few that actually attains it.

The album’s reflective tone may come as a shock – even in the early ‘60s, most Christmas albums were peppier than this, and these days, it’s almost impossible to find a holiday collection that isn’t at least 85% holly and/or jolly. This isn’t the kind of record you want to put on at a party, in other words – or if you’re battling late-December blues. You certainly aren’t going to hear any of these songs over the loudspeaker at Macy’s between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

This is why, for listeners weaned on Christmas albums from artists such as ‘N Sync, Mariah Carey, and Toby friggin’ Keith, December might sound, at first, like transmissions from an alien planet. Where are the jingling bells? Where are the Santa suits? Good Lord, where are the over-the-top choirs? Blissfully silent, all of ‘em – which is why, if you know any music fans whose tastes run to that kind of crap, you owe it to them to slip a copy of The 25th Day of December into their stocking. They’ll thank you for it. So, in all likelihood, will everyone else.

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