Live In London

Mavis Staples

ANTI-, 2019

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


Want to know what this album sounds like? Then take a good look at that cover shot and you’ve got your answer. The fight, passion, conviction, and most importantly the hope that transcends from singer to audience throughout this set is nothing less than remarkable. That is to be expected, however, because Mavis Staples is a remarkable singer and a truly inspirational woman.

American icon, national treasure, freedom fighter, civil rights activist, preacher of love, rejecter of hate – I could go on, but think about this: of all those who fought the fight for what was right (in many different ways) and are no longer living to see these current times of insanity (and disbelief!) – who would they want to be their voice of reason, their voice of love, their voice of hope for a brighter tomorrow? Yep, you guessed it, none other than the great Mavis Staples. And the beautiful thing is they never had to ask because Staples knows this, she’s always known this, and thankfully for them and importantly for us, she ain’t done yet.

Recorded over two nights last July at London’s Union Chapel, Live In London is Staples' second live album following 2008’s set recorded in Chicago (Live: Hope At The Hideout). Vocally, it’s hard to believe more than a decade has passed. If anything, Staples sounds more vibrant and engaged than she did back then. Her amazingly versatile band are as follows: Rick Holmstrom on guitar (dude is so underrated), Jeff Turmes on bass, and Stephen Hodges on drums with backing vocalists Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Staples self-produced the record and has put together a perfectly paced and varied set of tunes plucked from both gigs that cover her most recent acclaimed group of albums (mostly produced and written with Jeff Tweedy) and reaching all the way back to her time with the family band, The Staples Singers. Along the way for good measure, there are a few glorious covers thrown into the mix that surprisingly blend seamlessly with the originals.

Don’t think for a minute that this set is all doom and gloom or heavy on the politics; it isn’t. It is a set full of joy, love, fire, funk, soul, rock, gospel, blues, and it is heaps of fun. The “message,” however, is there as clear as can be – it always is, it lives in every high note, every low note, every guttural roar that Staples can muster. That message is perhaps most clear on “No Time For Cryin’,” Tweedy and Staples’ protest song taken from 2017’s brilliant If All I Was Was Black LP. Equally powerful is the set’s opener “Love And Trust,” a Ben Harper gem that Staples recorded for her 2016 album Livin’ On A High Note.

More recent cuts add weight to the set with two Tweedy originals, the slow-burning blues duo of “Who Told You That” and “You Are Not Alone.” Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That” is given a punch-funk workout in place of the acoustic offering Staples included on her 2013 album One True Vine. Another funked-up slow jam given new life here is Curtis Mayfield’s “Take Us Back;” Staples’ blend of passion and power on this one is truly moving.

The most fun inclusion here is a ripping trip through Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” The band is flexing a tight groove, Holmstrom riffs some sweet stuff, and Mavis revels in the moment but still adding weight to the lyrics, as if to emphasize some new found relevance in that second verse:

“Put away that gun /This part is simple
Try to recognize / What is in your mind
God help us / Help us loose our minds
These slippery people / Help us understand.”

The album closes out with an impromptu crowd singing of “Happy Birthday” (Staples turned 79 the night of the second gig) during which Mavis gives thanks for “making another year” and declaring “there just ain’t no stoppin’ me” before burning through “Touch A Hand,” all the while getting the love vibes going again to leave the people with.

Live In London is not only a celebration of all that Mavis Staples stands for but also a reminder of how important music and freedom of expression are and always will be. It also represents her part in a fight taken up long ago which still must be won, a fight this battle-weary warrior is still up for – a fight that could finally be ended if those that choose not to would just sit and listen and feel and think…

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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