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Mavis Staples – We’ll Never Turn Back

The current issue of the magazine Blues Revue has a cover article on the 25 most import blues releases of the last decade. Big blues fan that I am, I was horrified to discover that I only had 5 CDs on that list. The other 20 quickly became an internet shopping list.

They’ve begun to trickle into my mailbox. There has been one disc, so far, that really blew me away: Mavis Staples’ We’ll Never Turn Back.

If you’re anywhere near my age you might recall the Staples Singers’ hits “I’ll Take You There”, “Respect Yourself” and “Let’s Do It Again”, all 70s chart hits. The sultry lead vocals on those hits were by Mavis Staples. The intense eroticism of her performance came as a surprise to a lot of people as the Staples Singers first appeared in churches, beginning as a gospel/folk group. That’s the Staples Singers backing up The Band on “The Weight” in Martin Scorsese’s film The Last Waltz.

This new CD is a Mavis Staples solo effort. Blues Revue described it as the finest album of her career. It would be difficult for me to disagree.

The CD is produced by slide guitar (he can expertly play anything with strings, actually) and production legend Ry Cooder (Ry is the only person with whom I’ve had a total fanboy meltdown. I could write several dozen Journal entries on the amazing Ry Cooder. You’ve heard his fine work all over the place for the last 45 years; if by some chance you’re unfamiliar with Mr. Cooder, check out his Wikipedia entry).

If you liked Ry’s work with Little Village (this incredible group consisted of Ry, John Hiatt, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner, music legends all), you’ll love We’ll Never Turn Back. Mavis’ CD has got that same spare, tasty production that’s on the Little Village CD.

Ry, with only a few instruments (Little Village’s Jim Keltner is on drums), manages to convey a very personal, rich, steamy mood throughout each track. The songs are a perfectly seamless combination of Mavis’ gospel roots with the thick sensuality of the most deeply felt blues. The music and her performances are profoundly moving and heartbreakingly personal. The painful yet triumphant struggle for civil rights weaves through her well chosen track list; there are a few sad nods to the Katrina disaster as well. We’ll Never Turn Back is true soul music.

This CD came out in 2007. I don’t know how I missed it. I try to obtain every recording Mr. Cooder has ever touched. I am sure glad it made the Blues Revue Top 25 list!

2 thoughts on “Mavis Staples – We’ll Never Turn Back

  1. I do like Ry Cooder quite a bit-one of my favorites of his is the Indian music collaboration he did with V.M. Bhatt called “A Meeting By the River” I have listened to that countless times and find it incredibly soothing music to go to sleep to. Have you checked out the live show from the mid 70’s that is available for download at Wolfgang’s Vault? Also very good stuff and if you don’t have it I am sure you would really like it.

  2. Thanks for the update on the Mavis Staples CD (I missed it too). That Ry Cooder is on board is a real bonus. Listening to Mavis’ sultry voice on “I’ll Take You There” still gives me chills and trip on my personal way-back machine (damn/bless that pipe smoking dog). It’s an empowering song that always brings a variety of emotions to the surface. And I’m just another white guy! “Ain’t no smilin’ faces, Lyin’ to the races, I’ll take you there!”
    “Respect Yourself” could sure use a lot of air play in our seemingly shameless (un)reality TV society.
    I’m off to buy that disc. Thanks again.

    PS: Notice all the attention of Buddy Guy’s getting these days? It’s about time.

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