Pops Staples: Don't Lose This

The deep, rich sound of Pops’ guitar captures the immense spirit of a human being that cannot be seen in the physical manifestation of a man.

Pops Staples

Don't Lose This

Label: Anti-
US Release Date: 2015-02-17
UK Release Date: 2015-02-16

Pops Staples put his own inimitable stamp on the blues, although he himself rejected the blues label and called his music gospel. His belief in God takes center stage, but his is a loving lord. Pops acknowledges the problems of poverty, addiction, sin, and such. After more than 80 years on the planet as a black man from the South, Pops knew right from wrong even when he was on the losing end. But he never gave up faith.

Staples began taping Don’t Lose This back in 1998 at the urging of his kin. The patriarch was not healthy, but with the help of his family he was able to make one more album. However, the demos were somewhat rough and never released until now. His daughter Mavis brought it to her recent producer, Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco, and asked him to help her get the material in shape. Tweedy added post-production playing and vocals (by himself and others) that smoothly blended with the original recordings. The results sound clear and immediate, with Pops’ ministerial voice (as well as the vocals of his talented daughters) and resonating guitar ringing loud and proud.

Perhaps it is merely a function of age, but Pops sings with a confidence in his message of faith and an awareness of our own human frailties without condescension. We all might be sinners, but we can be redeemed. On one of the most powerful tracks, “Nobody’s Fault but Mine”, Pops acknowledges how easy it is to blame others for one’s problems and reminds us to look at ourselves for the answers. As another song makes clear (“Love on My Side”), one may be homeless, poor, hungry, and broken but one can still find salvation in God’s love. The deep, rich sound of Pops’ guitar captures the immense spirit of a human being that cannot be seen in the physical manifestation of a man dressed in rags with alcohol on his breath.

Most listeners will recognize the old hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, because of its importance to contemporary country music vis a vis the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album of that title. However, Pops performs it as a spiritual tune far from its country connotations. This version calls for a congregational hallelujah more than a generational sharing of roots. Pops celebrates the end of life as a time of glory. The other song most listeners would know is Bob Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”. As with "Will the Circle Be Unbroken”, Pops takes an upbeat approach to the lyrics and melody. Serving the lord brings one joy and nobody but a fool would serve the devil. It’s like asking one whether they would choose a life of pleasure or a life of pain -- a real no brainer.

Dylan had covered the Staple Singers early in his career, and they had recorded several of his compositions. Dylan even proposed marriage to Mavis, who turned him down. Hearing Pops sing Dylan here, with Mavis assisting, makes one wonder how fruitful that relationship could have been from a musical perspective. That conjecture aside, Pops' rendition of Dylan is just one of the many highlights on this record of a singular musician who left his mark on music without ever taking his eyes, heart, and soul off the lord. All of the songs, the traditional material, the self-penned cuts, the well-known tracks, reveal Pops’ enormous talent. He found his inspiration in God and encouraged the rest of us to find the love within ourselves and share it with others.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.