Don't Lose This by Pops Staples, released by ANTI- Records in 2015.
It's customary to think of songs as built up out of a few fundamental elements: melody, rhythm, harmony, lyric – words set to a tune sung in time atop chords. But these songs are nothing like that. They of course have melody and rhythm, harmony and lyric. But that's not what they're made of, that's not what they are. Pops Staples songs, rather, are compositions of two timbres: his trembling voice and his tremolo guitar.
There's other sounds here, too, of course: drums, bass, other voices. But these songs are anchored by the unique signatures of Pops's two instruments: the wooziness of his guitar, the yearning in his voice. Either of these elements on its own is distinctive enough as it is. But together they sound like nothing else.
It's often hard to believe that these two sounds are coming from the same performer, in a simultaneous performance. They often have entirely different energies, moving not so much in counterpoint as in parallel, but in a way that somehow, miraculously, comes together as a single musical whole. These songs are like a conversation between Pops's voice and his guitar, but a conversation that does not just go back and forth between them, but also involves a lot of talking over one another.
And that's not the only reason these songs sound conversational. It's also a matter of the casualness and spontaneity of their performance. The rhythm is loose, the melodies meandering. Pops sings as if he's just telling you the lyrics, speaking them out in his delicate yet sonorous voice. The guitar licks feel extemporaneous, as if they're just whatever in the moment came to his mind. Though Pops has surely played these songs hundreds if not thousands of times before, they never sound rehearsed. They sound as if Pops has just sat down and started speaking through his instruments, channelling the energy of the moment into a new and singular performance.
There's one other element to this music's essence, one last thing that makes it what it is. This is spiritual music, gospel music, devotional music – and it's doubtful that Pops's sound could be put to any other purpose, let alone a better one. Listening to Pops play, you can't but hear the spirit moving through him, in the way his guitar quivers and the way his voice always remains pure, however quiet or loud it may be.
These are holy sounds, but also human ones. In them one can feel the divine element in man. In them one can hear a man approaching the divine. Through this music one learns that we all can aspire to something greater, however humble our talents may be. Through this music one sees that there is transcendence even amidst the mundane.