Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mavis Staples Urges Us To Have A Little Faith

One of the highlights from this summer’s Pocono Blues Festival (2004) was the performance by Mavis Staples. Her set included some classics associated with the Staple Singers and what was then a preview of the recently issued Alligator disc, Have a Little Faith. This new album will be welcome for Ms. Staples’ many fans and gain her new fans. 

While the material is religious in nature, the basic messages of songs such as the title track, God Is Not Sleeping, In Times Like These and Step Into the Light can move persons of all faiths. The mood of many songs is mostly reassurance in these very troubling times we live in. There are some nods to the unsettled times on There’s a Devil on the Loose, while a couple of songs, Ain’t No Better Than You and At the End of the Day, promote the idea that whatever our state in life, we are all basically the same. As she sings on the latter number that whether one is a Wall Street broker or a fruit cart vendor, “At the end of the day, we’re all the same.” 
Mavis Staples at 2010 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock

She recalls her late father on Pops Recipe, singing about he taught how to sing and how to live and gave his family all his love and everything he had to give. A Dying Man’s Plea is a moving rendition of See That My Grave is Kept Clean, with additional lyrics that Pops Staples had added with nice dobro and fiddle from John Rice. The album concludes with a new rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which was the first song the Staples learned to sing as a family and was a hit for them on Vee-Jay. 

Produced with Jim Tullio who adds percussion, bass and guitar on various tracks, Mavis Staples sings brilliantly with so much passion. The musicians in the studio provide a most sympathetic backing, with a bluesy-soul feel on most of the songs. This writer may be a religious skeptic but these performances move me. This is clearly among the best recordings (blues or otherwise) of this year. 

This review appeared in the October 2004 DC Blues Calendar and the November-December 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 271). I received a review copy from Alligator.  Here is her with her dad Pops Stales and her sisters, The Staples Singers doing one of their classics.

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