Review by Tony Rounce
We’re a little late in bringing this to your attention, as it’s been out since the end of May – but it would be a shame not to highlight one of the best female-fronted albums of 2019.
Mavis Staples made her first recordings in 1953 with the Staple Singers. She was 13 years old, and had already been fronting her family group for two years by that time. Although not a Loud Woman in the ‘current’ sense, Mavis’ was always a voice that spoke up – and spoke out – for equality among humanity, and that’s surely a message for the ages if ever there was one.
The Staple Singers were at the peak of their commercial popularity in the first half of the 1970s. It would be a lie to say that Mavis’ voice has not lost a little of its power in recent years. Heck, she’s 80 years old. Nobody in the world sounds as good at 80 as they did at 35. She’s still unmistakably Mavis. That is what matters above all and if you can’t deal with that, you’re probably not reading this anyway.
‘We Get By’ is Mavis’ 14th solo album since 1969. Produced by the estimable Ben Harper (who joins her in duet on the title track) it’s her best so far of the 21st century. The 11 tracks, all written or co-written by Harper, suit Mavis’ octogenarian voice to a T, and sensibly allow her to exhibit maximum soulfulness without taxing her upper range unduly.
Her three accompanists are also outstanding, particularly Rick Holmstrom whose heavily reverb’ed guitar work is modelled on that of Mavis’ late father Pops, and is never less than outstanding – particularly on the album’s most gospelly track ‘Sometime’ which also highlights the excellent backing vocals of C C White, Laura Mace and Donny Gerard, a super set of substitutes for Mavis’ now sadly deceased father and sisters. Holmstrom also excels on the slower, reflective ‘Never Needed Anyone’ and ‘Heavy On My Mind’, on which he is Mavis’ sole accompanist.
Pick tracks? Besides those already mentioned, if you are not profoundly moved by the quiet intensity of ‘Hard To Leave’ – quite one of the saddest and loveliest songs I’ve heard in a long time – I politely suggest that you may need a personal emotional review. But really, it’s one of those albums that you’ll be able to listen to from start to finish without reaching for the ‘skip’ button. It’s on Bandcamp anyway, so why not taste and try before you “Get By”?…
Mavis just appeared at Glastonbury. She’s also playing the Roundhouse in London on July 4th as part of the Innervisions Festival and is in Bath on July 2nd, Paris at La Cigale on July 5th and in Lyon on July 6th. “We Get By” is available digitally via Bandcamp or as a physical CD or vinyl LP from all the usual online sources.