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Mavis Staples - We Get By (Album Review)

Tuesday, 28 May 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Myriam Santos

Over nearly 70 (yes, 70!) years and dozens of studio albums, Mavis Staples has carved out a position as one of the most culturally significant identities in African-American music. Her role as a civil rights activist has given her music a high degree of relevance during a time of intense social flux for the United States, and her latest album ‘We Get By’ feels timely in a climate of increasing political polarisation and intolerance.

The sound, crafted in tandem with guitarist and songwriter Ben Harper, is a vintage one. We open with the rasping blues of Change, which marries a grungy riff with Staples’ semi-spiritual proselytising. “What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?” she declares. Amen to that.

Her music lives at the intersection of blues, gospel and soul, and as the album snakes around these genres Staples’ messaging feels rich, direct and loving.

This is the case on the marvellously throwback Brothers and Sisters, which revolves around a tight funk guitar riff and vocal refrain that take us towards the live happening territory of James Brown and Sly & the Family Stone.

These days, Staples is at her best with her vocal in the lower range, allowing the backing singers to do the heavy lifting on choruses. That said, her voice is in fabulous condition (she recently enjoyed a star-studded 80th birthday concert at New York’s Apollo Theater), with angrier and more hysterical sections retaining a precision and energy that has long since departed many of her harder-living male contemporaries.

Another stand out moment comes on the funereal guitar ballad, Heavy on My Mind. Here Staples meditates on loss in a stunningly understated way. This is a mournful track about survivor’s guilt that acts as a lo-fi centrepiece for the whole album. It creates a centre of gravity that allows the upbeat tracks to energise and entertain with greater freedom. It’s inspiring work from a musical master.

Mavis Staples Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sun June 23 2019 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre
Thu July 04 2019 - LONDON Roundhouse
Tue July 30 2019 - YORK Appell Center For The Performing Arts

Click here to compare & buy Mavis Staples Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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