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Experiment with blues, pop goes awry

Peace to the Neighborhood
Peace to the Neighborhood
By Pops Staples

Pointblank / Virgin Records: 1992

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This review first appeared in the Winter 1993 edition of Blues Revue Quarterly magazine (now Blues Revue).

Pops Staples is one of the most original, imaginative artists contemporary gospel has produced. (And, of course, it was Pops' combo, his family-based Staples Singers, that helped bring about contemporary gospel!) His latest album, though, ventures from gospel into blues and rock and in so doing falls flat.

Why he did this project isn't clear. An accompanying press release alludes to the commercial success of John Lee HOoker's last two albums, "The Healer" and "Mr. Lucky," which are as much rock as blues and feature famous rock and pop artists in supporting – and sometimes leading – roles. While rock fans might be buying the two Hooker releases, many blues fans and critics have expressed disappointment.

If the reasons for making "Peace to the Neighborhood" are cloudy, the artistic failure is easy enough to understand: Staples never clicks with the blues standards or rock songs given him to perform on over half the album's tracks.

One must question why Staples was given blues and rock songs to perform. He is no traditionalist; even his brand of gospel is so contemporary that many gospel fans refuse to listen.

The too-few points where "Peace to the Neighborhood" shines are those where Staples is left alone, generally on upbeat originals. Also, on several songs he is joined by his daughters, and no one can keep the entire Staples clan down.