Both with The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Mavis Staples has specialised in Gospel soul with a social conscience in the Aretha Franklin tradition. Her passion and commitment remains powerful even though she’s now in her 80s. Remarkably, her voice is still as strong and resonant as ever.
Her twelfth studio album was written and produced by lifetime fan, Ben Harper. He wrote the song ‘Love And Trust’ for the 2016 album ‘Livin’ On A High Note’ and Staples explains why she was delighted to revive and extend the collaboration: “There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church”.
As a producer, Harper has succeeded in capturing the chemistry and Muscle Shoals vibes of her band by keeping the arrangements simple and recording everything live at Henson Studio in Hollywood, CA. His task was made easier by the quality of those involved in the project including Rick Holmstrom (guitar), Jeff Turmes (bass) , Stephen Hodges (drums), and Donny Gerrard (backing vocals).
“I’m the messenger” Staples says and she advocates love, faith, justice, brotherhood and joy for our broken planet. When she sings “We gotta be brave in a scary world” (Brothers And Sisters) and “We’ve gotta change” (Sometime) it’s evident that she’s not merely trotting out empty slogans.
The message of the songs is that reason and wisdom will prevail one day although there's no underestimating the scale of the challenge. The brooding Heavy On My Mind gets deep into the blues while in Never Needed Anyone she sings of a “world so lost, so dark, so afraid, it cuts you to the bone”.
To illustrate how long the struggle has been going on, the album cover features a Gordon Parks photo depicting the brutal reality of racial segregation in 1950’s Alabama.
The title track, the sole duet with Harper, is all about believing that, through strength and solidarity, change can come one day. To keep the faith when the lessons of history continue to be disregarded is not easy but these songs help put fire in the belly.
Harper says “The role of optimism through song is to try to represent where you’re at, where you’ve come from and hopefully where you want to get to and nobody does that like Mavis Staples”.
The overriding message of hope is summed up in the lyrics to the closing song One More Change: “Been holding on too long to let go / Running too hard to slow down / Believing too deep to not have faith”.