Similar artists



Alternative & Indie - Released September 14, 2010 | Anti - Epitaph

Distinctions 4F de Télérama - 4 étoiles Rock and Folk - Sélection Les Inrocks
Mavis Staples may not have a voice with the kind of range and pure power of an Aretha Franklin, but she understands the ins and outs of phrasing and nuance, and brings an inimitable, gritty passion to everything she sings, even into her seventies. She's also not afraid to walk right down the middle of the road between secular and sacred, fully aware that both the blues and gospel are really talking about the same thing -- the need to get to a better place. She performs this delicate synthesis well on You Are Not Alone, an album that finds her teamed with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, whose production on this project is surprisingly sympathetic to Staples' strengths, and more importantly, doesn't make her sound like an adjunct participant in a Wilco album. No, this is Mavis' show, and she grabs ahold of well-chosen covers like Randy Newman's “Losing You,” Allen Toussaint's “Last Train,” Reverend Gary Davis' “I Belong to the Band,” and John Fogerty's “Wrote a Song for Everyone” with conviction, wringing every bit of wisdom, anger, compassion, and joy out of them, while bringing a fresh perspective to traditional gospel pieces like “In Christ There Is No East or West,” “Creep Along Moses,” and “Wonderful Savior,” reminding that redemption is pretty hard work even in the best of times. She tackles a couple of Pops Staples pieces here, too, “Don’t Knock” and “Downward Road,” making this whole set a well-rounded portrait of Mavis Staples as she stands then, now, and tomorrow. Tweedy wrote several songs for the project, but only two, including the title track “You Are Not Alone,” appear here, and he wisely resisted any urge to overdo his sonic stamp on the album. Most tracks feature sturdy, simple, and subdued backing that allows Staples' voice to carry the show, highlighted by reverbed guitar reminiscent of Pops Staples' trademark sound, although only enough to suggest it -- nothing here gets in the way of Mavis' voice. You Are Not Alone is a solid outing that somehow amazingly manages to be both secular and sacred at once, and there is a stripped-down timelessness to it. It's gospel. It's blues. It's about love and redemption, and how each needs the other. You Are Not Alone won Best Americana Album at the 2010 Grammys. ~ Steve Leggett

Alternative & Indie - Released October 28, 2008 | Anti - Epitaph

The occasion for recording this live album was Mavis Staples' return visit to Chicago's legendary Hideout in June of 2008, on a Monday night. (It is not necessarily the best evening for club-going or concert-attending audiences.) Accompanied by a basic rock trio and three backing vocalists, Staples dug deep into her repertoire; many of the songs came from We'll Never Turn Back, a collection of songs from civil rights era rock, gospel, and Staple Singers material. Recorded and released by Anti, it is a warts-and-all performance. The sound is pristine, the energy from the stage is kinetic from the second tune forward, and the audience participation is rather sparse until the end, but it's obvious they get it. The set commences with Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth." To be honest, it's not the best version Staples has ever delivered, but it's adequate and gives the crowd something to hold on to. She digs a little deeper on "Eyes on the Prize," and is full bore by the album's third cut, "Down in Mississippi." Staples is in fine voice, but to be fair it is not the voice of her younger years. She is 69 years old, and some of the high notes are no longer available to her, but what she lacks in her legendary range she more than makes up for in both grit and passion. Her transposition to lower keys suits her well and she uses it to maximum effect -- check out her growling version of "Wade in the Water," with a call and response from her backing vocalists. Rick Holmstrom's Telecaster guitar lines are drenched in warm bluesed-out reverb throughout the set, but here they help put the song over the top. In fact, the trio here -- completed by bassist Jeff Turmes on bass and Stephen Hodges on drums -- feels like some lost incarnation of Creedence Clearwater Revival at their most spooky and meandering. The groove is constant and hypnotic, and Staples draws from them, putting the song across better than she has on any album. If this music were played in churches this way, they'd all be full. Other performances are starker, relying as much on Holmstrom's guitar as they do on Staples' voice, such as "Waiting for My Child" and a smoldering, funky version of "This Little Light of Mine," which is all rhythm. The reading of her father Pop Staples' "Why Am I Treated So Bad" is fully supported by the handclapping crowd and her backing chorus, and its subterranean blues, though slow and purposeful, is full of determination. "Freedom Highway" is the most uptempo thing here, walking a line between gritty soul and roots rock. Staples offers a long rambling intro to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," but it's worth the wait. She explains that it's the first song her father ever taught her how to sing; the arrangement sticks close to his, but the voice is all Mavis, and she and the chorus dig into it like they were trying to defeat death itself. Ultimately, though this set has a few rough spots -- you had to be there to get the full power and rough-hewn majesty of it all -- it's a better offering than listeners had any right to expect, and Mavis Staples more than keeps up her end of the bargain. It is at once a celebratory and inspiring recording. ~ Thom Jurek

Pop - Released April 24, 2007 | Anti - Epitaph

When Mavis Staples issued Have a Little Faith in 2004 on the Alligator label, there was no doubt she was back. While the recording was subdued in places, it also showcased her ability to get so far down inside a song that it had to bubble up and be completely reinvented by her voice. It wasn't just a soul and contemporary gospel recording; it also touched on her earliest days with her family singing the blues gospel, and there was a bucket of hope in each track. Several of the songs from the recording were used in television and film. Her 2007 follow-up, We'll Never Turn Back, focuses on another kind of hope: the hope that the men and women who engaged in the civil rights struggles of the early '60s brought to a hostile America and changed its laws -- and some of its attitudes, but not nearly enough -- forever. Staples has enlisted the help of the original vocalists of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Community, who were called the SNCC Freedom Singers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (no strangers to the struggle for basic human rights) in a couple of places, and Ry Cooder and his roots band to accompany them. Cooder produced the set, but his gift is the ability to retain in their entirety the voices of the performers when he works with them. Mavis may not have the shouting power she once had, but the conviction and expression in her voice have not wavered an inch. She's still got plenty in her pipes, and We'll Never Turn Back is the proof. Cooder's compadres are son Joachim on percussion, drummer Jim Keltner, and bassist Mike Elizando. The song choices are quite remarkable, as the album kicks off with J.B. Lenoir's "Down in Mississippi," which echoes the spooky, eerie Pops guitar sound as the voices hover all around it. The arrangement Cooder chose for the traditional "Eyes on the Prize" accents his funky, nasty slide guitar as much as it does Mavis' voice. The song is offered not as an anachronism, but as a spiritual with contemporary -- even necessary -- instructions. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's backing vocals fill the refrains with a necessary sound of lineage as if this were the sound of antiquity coming forward to broadcast once more that it is necessary. Keltner and Joachim, with their contrapuntal rhythms, offer an organic take on breakbeats as well. The Freedom Singers begin their contribution on the album's fourth track, "In the Mississippi River," with Charles Neblett offering the call from ages past before the band gets inside it and makes it downright snaky. Mavis soon digs into her low register and the drums and slide guitar pump that backbeat with purpose, mean and slow. The shuffling swamp rock version of "This Little Light of Mine" makes it a new song. Mavis lays out pure Southern soul in her vocal and the band shuffles and soft-shoes it, making the tension rise in the singer's voice. On the popping gospel-funk of "99 1/2 Won't Do," they let her lead it and she goes down into the drum groove for inspiration and finds it there. Cooder's guitar playing asserts itself everywhere, but gradually and gently, preferring to let Mavis lead him. The gorgeous backing vocals by the Freedom Singers kick it. The longest cut here is "My Own Eyes," where Mavis performs a tune she wrote -- it's an emotional reverie, recounting her own family's journey through the civil rights movement as inspired by the late Dr. King. Her message is not necessarily poetic, but it's deeply moving and urgent. When she raises her voice to proclaim "I saw it with my own eyes/So I know it's true," there's no doubting. When she indicts politicians on their failure in New Orleans, one can feel the bile rise in her throat. The final track is "Jesus Is on the Main Line," a tune Cooder himself recorded on Paradise and Lunch so long ago. This arrangement is completely different, but it's even more effective. His guitar is a slim, slow-sliding companion to Mavis' voice, full of distant reverb and in-your-face presence even as it pushes her vocal to the front. When the band enters a minute or so later, the tune cracks wide open and begins a kind of mariachi song as it meets gospel. The Freedom Singers egg on the percussion and it responds in the backbeat, and Mavis lets the graininess in her voice shine through. It's a rough-and-ready tune that is not only inspirational but fun. In sum, We'll Never Turn Back is the kind of album we need at the moment, one that doesn't flinch from the tradition but doesn't present it as a museum piece either. Mavis Staples has done it again. ~ Thom Jurek

Alternative & Indie - Released April 6, 2017 | Parlophone UK


Alternative & Indie - Released September 22, 2008 | Anti - Epitaph


Mavis Staples in the magazine