Live In London
Published February 2019
Blues Music Magazine
Recording artist, check. Gospel and soul royalty, check. civil rights activist, check. Freedom singer, check. 50-plus year recording artist, check. Living legend, check. Birthday girl, check.
On the night of her 79th, the ageless Mavis Staples and her marvelous band appeared within the Union Chapel, London, U.K. in a rousing evening, showing just how good and fulfilling music can both reach for and obtain.
In twelve cuts, plus a couple of intros, Mavis remains a completely in-control singer and performer with the surety of a committed entertainer.
For fans of the iconic Staples Singers (“I’ll Take You There,” “Respect Yourself,”) there couldn’t be a more heartwarming welcome to this album’s pleasure. The music of the Gospel church and personal spirituality is alive in every note she sings.
“It’s still the same message,” she has stated. “I’m still trying to bring us together and make the world a better place through songs.”
Staples is an inductee into both The Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame. She’s also been presented with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and has been granted with countless other acclaims and doctorates than you can shake with a Gospel stick.
Her quietly incendiary guitarist, Rick Holmstrom, (whom many readers will remember from his longtime stint with Rod Piazza,) plays understated, compelling and brilliant roots-music backing, fitting perfectly with Mavis’ always- impassioned delivery.
Longtime Staples’ band members Stephen Hodges who handles the album’s mostly low-key drumming like a master along with Mavis’ bassist Jeff Turmes lead with their musical hearts and more than considerable chops. Background singers Donny Gerrard and the powerful Vicki Randall are a revelation, slipping and sometimes leading within and around Staples’ always soulful lead.
Produced by Staples and covering tunes by among others, Ben Harper, Curtis Mayfield, Jeff Tweedy, David Byrne, George Clinton, and her beloved father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, her songs and messages are contemporary, varied, and diverse.
Mayfield’s mid-70’s “Let’s Do It Again” is probably the only overtly sexual song you’ll ever hear from Staples and her delivery is coy, intimate and impassioned as she interplays with the marvelous Gerrard.
At the end of the album with her wonderful take on “Touch a Hand,” she introduces the band within the song’s context and brings the recording to a close with the fervor of a church choir at its peak frenzy. One can just feel the audience shaking hands and making friends. And when at the close she states, “I love you,” you believe her.
Mavis Staples, still putting out sensational records, check!