Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Fresh and inspiring R&B/Gospel from Mavis Staples

I have a neighbor who likes to lend me music. As you know, I’ll listen to anything once so this would seem like a good deal. The problem is she is a big Country music fan and, well, I’m just not. There is not much Country that I can really stomach and even less that I really like (‘Red Headed Stranger’). So I have kind of come to dread it when our conversations range around to music and she darts inside to bring me a few discs. I always listen. But it’s rare that I like even 1 track.

Funky, soulful, and inspiring.

Funky, soulful, and inspiring.

Last week she brought me a few discs. A Levon Helm disc I haven’t gotten to yet, something from Jim Lauderdale that actually wasn’t bad, though I didn’t rip any tracks, and a disc from Mavis Staples. Now, I had heard her name before and was aware that she was a pretty big deal, but the height of her popularity was before my time. She was the musical voice of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and her Staples Singers reached the Top 40 8 times between 1971 and 1975. Her voice has been sampled by the likes of Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Ice Cube, and Ludacris. I discovered today that Bob Dylan asked her father for her hand in marriage. So a lot of other people knew who she was. I just wasn’t paying attention, I guess.

The disc my neighbor gave me was her 2007 release, ‘We’ll Never Turn Back,’ a concept album full of songs from and about the Civil Rights movement in America.  I was not expecting to be blown away, but I absolutely was. It’s not a country album at all. It’s a mix of R&B and Folk music with deep Gospel roots. Ms. Staples’ passionate, bluesy voice is joined by classic Gospel backing vocals, lots of acoustic guitars, and some tenor horns that give this release an organic sound. It doesn’t sound like an old album, though. It was produced by the legendary Ry Cooder, whose mixing and use of percussion keep things bright and lively.

Some of the songs feature a lot of preaching – usually about freedom and equality, not JC – and that gets old fast for me. Most of the songs, however, are heartfelt pleas for change, encouragement to stay strong, or celebrations of victory. Three tracks in particular from this release are fantastic. Check them out.

  • Down in Mississippi – There is something I love about old school performers working with modern production techniques (like R.L. Burnside’s album ‘Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down’). Here she tells how it was when there were “Colored Only” signs hanging everywhere back in the day. The vibe is Gospel but the percussion is more modern, giving it a great feel.
  • Eyes on the Prize – Ms. Staples wails the classic Civil Rights folk anthem with soulful backing vocals and funky guitar and percussion work. This is such a hot version of this song.
  • This Little Light of Mine – She funkifies this classic Gospel children’s song with horns and some new lyrics. “Ain’t gonna fight no rich man’s war. That ain’t what God wanna use me for. Killin’ folk ain’t in my line. Sure ain’t no way to let my little light shine.”

Liz, if you’re reading this, don’t worry about the Country music. I’ll happily listen to whatever you bring me from now on.



September 18, 2009 - Posted by | Blues, Folk, R&B, Soul

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