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CD REVIEW -- Mavis Staples
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Live in London

ANTI- Records

Mavis Staples Live in London CD

by Al Finley

Mavis Staples looks like she is ready to fight on the cover of her new LIVE IN LONDON release on the ANTI- label and she soon proves she hasn’t lost a step since her last live release, LIVE: HOPE AT THE HIDEOUT, recorded almost 10 years ago in a tiny, but revered bar, The Hideout, in her home town of Chicago.  London’s Union Chapel may be nine times larger and located across the pond; but Mavis sounds equally at home and her band sounds better than ever after all this time together!

Guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s incisive opening notes ring out a clarion call to action that somehow still maintains an introspective quality that sets the perfect tone for the entire performance.  After opening with Ben Harper’s Love and Trust; Mavis is soon questioning the status quo with Jeff Tweedy’s lyrics: “Now hold back/My, my, don’t explode/We don’t wanna rock the boat/Who told you that/Who?” and slyly adding: “Oh, they lie/And they show no shame!”  Cunningly, Mavis follows with the Talking Head’s Slippery People and the rhythm section of Jeff Turmes (bass) and Stephen Hodges (drums) gets a real workout.  Throughout, seasoned vocalists Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle provide the perfect warm blanket -- soulful strident support or call and response as needed -- reminiscent of her Staple Singers family legacy without being necessarily imitative. 

Mavis shouts out to the “Windy City” and some of the other great artists who have come from Chicago to introduce “What You Gonna Do” by her father Pops Staples.  Before the show is over, Mavis and the band will have also covered songs by Benjamin Booker, George Clinton, Curtis Mayfield, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), M. Ward, Gene Barge and Billy Davis to name just a few.  Amazingly, regardless of the source of the song or its vintage, they all seem cut from the same cloth and together are a nice summation of her last 10 years on the ANTI- label and her 70-year performing career.  

As the audience sings “Happy Birthday” to Mavis before she can begin the encore, she notes there “Ain’t no stopping me” and amen for that.  Like a fine wine that just gets better and more nuanced with age, the extra grit and gravel in Mavis’ voice just makes it all the more compelling to follow as she continues to inspire everyone to march for fairness and social justice for all.

Mavis closes with The Staple Singers’ classic “(Reach Out) Touch a Hand” imploring everyone to “Make a friend if you can” and “Touch somebody!”  Mavis certainly touches us all and her band couldn’t be better!  There are no repeats from her last live album.  If you have that one, you are going to want this one too!

For info or to buy the CD:

Al Finley plays BoTh KiNdS of music from 1-3pm CST Sundays on WNUR (89.3 FM).  He also hosts HOW THE WEST WAS STRUNG on WDCB (90.9 FM) Tuesdays 11pm-Midnight CST.

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