Livin’ On A High Note
Here’s the latest from Mavis Staples, and a producer-switch, following two charming-enough but sombre Jeff Tweedy-helmed full lengthers. Now we have M. Ward making sure things are sunny and hopeful – and the songwriting credits include Nick Cave, Neko Case and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon among others. But Livin’ On A High Note is just a bit too sunny, shiny, happy for me.
Mavis is in fine voice still, of course, and there’s an earthy grit to the way she delivers a line – there’s also some nice musical touches. The guitar lines sting out on Don’t Cry and scream vintage R’n’B, the title track has lines that recall Robbie Robertson, Staples has spoken throughout her life of the connection there from covering The Weight. Always a live favourite in her sets.
But on Love and Trust the backing vocals are stolen back from David Bowie’s Golden Years and…well, nothing is done with them, ultimately.
And this sunny disposition hides the wrong kind of preaching, platitudinous lectures about life having ups and downs and turning frowns into smiles because tomorrow is another day…
Staples’ great comeback was the Ry Cooder-produced We’ll Never Turn Back and the following year’s sublime Live: Hope at the Hideout. This album lacks the grit and grunt of those offerings, Mavis has largely been riding on a feelgood wave of legacy rediscovered since those albums of nearly a decade ago.
Now we have the smiley, feel-good doco doing the rounds and though the previous EP hinted at very good things, this album mostly highlights that the same song – or at least the same sentiment – over and again is just too much.
You can’t say it’s bad, as such, but it’s definitely too much of a mediocre thing.