We Get By
She is 80 this year. She is remarkable. She is the voice of civil rights. She is one of the voices of the 20th Century and her output across the last decade and a half in particular shows a restless ambition; Mavis Staples doesn’t want to be remembered as being the voice of just the 20th Century…
And so a rather incredible run of albums continues.
And just as she’s always collaborated with brilliant producers and writers – from her own family members through Prince and Ry Cooder to more recently M. Ward and Jeff Tweedy this new album finds Ben Harper in the writer/producer chair.
It’s a sinewy, swampy band sound – guitars, bass, drums and some tambourine on the side. Mavis’ amazing voice and tremendous spirit up front. Always.
And with Harper’s help Mavis is shouting down President Trump, racisim, shaking her head at shootings and offering her soul to the journey.
There is stirring, world-weary balladry here (Heavy On My Mind, Hard To Leave). And there’s a raw energy that’s palpable across the blues-based rockers such as opener, Change, Brothers and Sisters and Sometime. There’s a lovely grit to the title track and Anytime.
And though we have heard Mavis in this groove for a longtime now this is one of her finest sets of songs from recent years. Her commitment to the cause and to the song urges you to keep listening. And so to the closing track here, One More Change, quite possibly the single highlight of this new set of recordings.
Kudos to Ben Harper then also – who has always been better in collaboration. We’ve heard that whether it be Charlie Musselwhite, Blind Boys of Alabama or indeed his own mother. It isn’t just him hitching his wagon. But the man that has so often driven my wild with a smug arrogance on his own records is so correctly deferential here.
It was B.B. King that first taught me that “some songs tend to signify and others tend to sanctify”. It’s so wonderful to hear that Mavis Staples still aims to do both – often within the very same tune. And she not only takes aim. She knocks it out of the park every time on We Get By.
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