Pops Staples, “Somebody Was Watching” from Don’t Lose This (2015): One Track Mind

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Fifteen years after his death, Pops Staples returns — as sweetly vibrant, as light-filled and meaningful, as deeply soulful as ever — on “Somebody Was Watching,” an unearthed track to be included on the forthcoming Don’t Lose This.

Daughter Mavis Staples, who co-produced the original 1999 sessions, completed the song with Jeff Tweedy, the Wilco band leader who has collaborated on a pair of her more recent albums. She says, back then, they had gathered to make another Staple Singers album, but instead decided to let Pops Staples take the lead. The tapes, however, sat dormant after his passing.

Dormant, but never far from Mavis Staples’ mind. She says her father, upon hearing the unfinished music, encouraged her to look after this music, to make sure — when the time was right — that it was released. And not, as this new album title reminds, to lose it.

“Somebody Was Watching,” and Don’t Lose This, will finally see release on February 17, 2015, as with Mavis’ last two albums, via Anti- and the Wilco imprint dBpm. Her relationship with Tweedy, who produced both 2010’s You Are Not Alone and 2013’s One True Vine, thankfully brought her back to the Pops Staples tapes, and to this song’s smartly appropriate theme.

“Somebody Was Watching” finds Pops Staples singing with his signature hope-filled gusto about the blessings that seem to come out of nowhere in our lives. Same here.

Mavis Staples recorded new vocals to finish out the track, with Tweedy on bass and his son Spencer on drums. (The latter two are also in the offshoot band Tweedy.) Tweedy did some secondary production work, too, but the “Somebody Was Watching” belongs to — will always belong to — the ageless Roebuck “Pops” Staples. He never got enough credit for weaving country-blues guitar into the Staple Singers’ essential gospel gumbo, either.

You’ll be glad Mavis didn’t lose this.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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