Mavis Staples; We'll Never Turn Back (2007)

 |   |  1 min read

Down In Mississippi
Mavis Staples; We'll Never Turn Back (2007)

The great gospel-soul singer Mavis Staples -- 76 at the time of this writing -- was a member of the legendary Staples Singers founded by her father Pops Staples, a close personal friend of Dr Martin Luther King.

During the Civil Rights period music was on the frontline so to speak. Much of the Staples' music was political or inspirational and gave comfort to those struggling for rights and recognition.

This exceptional album takes this wonderful, warm, powerful and earthy voice back to those days on a selection of songs -- produced by Ry Cooder using his band, and with backing vocals by Ladysmith Black Mambazo on a few tracks -- which evoke that era.

From the startling opener -- a treatment of JB Lenoir's Down in Mississippi -- to the closer, Jesus on the Mainline, the traditional songs are matched by originals from Cooder, Staples and others.

There is a deep sense of gravitas and empowerment here which is set against gloriously evocative arrangements where moody beats, mercurial guitar from Cooder and haunting vocals manage to be make this deeply personal and political but also life-affirming in the face of adversity.

Mavis Staples is a legend who has sung at the White House and with The Band at their Last Waltz, and on the frontline. But she had some trepidation about recording this album until she looked around her.

As she told Bilboard magazine at the time: "I realised what these songs were about wasn't all in the past. You've got Katrina and all of these black people - and some whites - floating around in this water with signs asking for help.

"And you've got policemen shooting these black guys with 50 shots. Why?

"And then you have a white comedian [Michael Richards, Kramer in Seinfeld] standing onstage and shouting the 'N' word.

"So it's all still here."

And any reading of American news tells you it still is. 

Race, rights and righteousness were all on this timeless album. 

Truly exceptional.

These Essential Elsewhere pages deliberately point to albums which you might not have thought of, or have even heard . . .

But they might just open a door into a new kind of music, or an artist you didn't know of.

Or someone you may have thought was just plain boring.

But here is the way into a new/interesting/different music . . .

Jump in.

The deep end won't be out of your depth . . .

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Essential articles index

The Incredible String Band: Wee Tam and The Big Huge (1968)

The Incredible String Band: Wee Tam and The Big Huge (1968)

Sometimes for my own private amusement I will sing aloud The Incredible String Band's The Son of Noah's Brother in its entirety. All 16 seconds of it. The lyrics run, "Many were the... > Read more

Split Enz: Mental Notes (1975)

Split Enz: Mental Notes (1975)

In 2000, when Rip It Up magazine (now in the responsible hands of Simon Grigg of audioculture.co.nz) collated votes to determine the top 100 New Zealand albums in the most recent-whenever, it was... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Gin Wigmore: Gravel and Wine (Universal)

BEST OF ELSEWHERE 2011 Gin Wigmore: Gravel and Wine (Universal)

Although the remarkable Gin Wigmore mostly co-wrote here, you'd have to say it is her voice -- not just her musical voice -- which comes through with utter clarity. And yes, this extraordinary... > Read more

Bernie McGann: 1966 (Sarang Bang)

Bernie McGann: 1966 (Sarang Bang)

Because there is a surprising paucity of readily available music by the great Australian jazz saxophonist Bernie McGann -- who died in September 2013 aged 76 -- this is an especially gratifying... > Read more