Mavis Staples: We Get By
Mavis Staples turns 80 today (July 10), and she’s been singing for us for more than 60 of those years. Her voice, naturally, has aged along with the rest of her, becoming more fullbodied and seasoned. Yet, the fire and commitment she brings to a song—every song—remains the same as it’s ever been. Mavis Staples is a true American treasure. Following 2017’s Jeff Tweedy-produced If All I Was Was Black and the raucous Live in London released earlier this year, Staples has now put her trust in Ben Harper, who wrote and produced all of her 12th studio album. Harper has done his homework well: Every song on this 11-track collection suits her voice and bows to the positivity she’s always imbued into her music. Often, that doesn’t make for a pretty picture. “Change,” the lead track and first single, rides along on a nasty guitar lick and insistent rhythm. “Fingers on the trigger around here,” she sings. “Bullets flying, mothers crying, we gotta change around here.” There’s also nothing complex about it, and no doubt she means every word of it. On “Heavy on My Mind,” she states, nearly a cappella, “We did everything we could to slow this world down, now my love is in the ground,” 12 seconds into the song and she’s got your full attention. It’s not all gloom though: “Stronger” slides in with an economical guitar part, bold bass line and loose drum pattern. Staples takes it from there, referring back to her gospel roots just momentarily before declaring the depths of her feeling. And, it is never a question that her pleas for love and peace come from the same place as her faith.