Graham Reid | | 1 min read
The last album by the great Mavis Staples, We'll Never Turn Back was picked as one of the best albums of 2007 at Elsewhere, and that was no sympathy vote for one of life's survivors who had grown up with the civil rights movement and has now lived long enough to see Obama heading for the White House.
So when she sings "keep your eyes on the prize, hold on", Freedom Highway and We Shall Not Be Moved you know that she is bringing a world of experience to the lyrics which actually mean something personal to her.
This live set is exactly how you might want to experience Staples, at a small club in her hometown Chicago with a blues-rock band and in the days before Obama got his mandate. So while she never directly refers to what was happening in the streets her injunction to "keep your eyes on the prize" has extra resonance.
She draws from We'll Never Turn Back for material (a terrific and deeply meaningful For What It's Worth opens the set) and she speak-sings a moving section in Down in Mississippi (water fountains which have signs "for coloreds only") over a swampy backdrop. But she also pulls out a wonderful soul-funk version of the traditional Wade in the Water and does the same for that dreadful old folky warhorse This Little Light of Mine. With her exceptional band and earthy vocals familiar material is re-invented.
You'll never be able to hear Why Am I Treated So Bad or Will the Circle Be Unbroken in quite the same way again.
Mavis Staples is a rare individual: she performed at Kennedy's inauguration and has been a consistent and powerful voice for dignity and change in America.
How she must feel now.