Over half a century after her voice was at the forefront of America’s civil rights era, Mavis Staples is still crying out for Change. The bluesy backbeat opening track of her 12th studio album confronts recent shootings in the US before she concludes, brilliantly, “What good is freedom if we haven’t learned to be free?”
The former Staple Singers icon, who turns 80 in July, is in fearsome, eclectic form here. The title track is a lovely soul song about survival, and Brothers and Sisters is a funk rocker about unity.
Where her previous two collections were collaborations with M Ward and Jeff Tweedy respectively, here Ben Harper takes the songwriting-production helm. The minimal guitar/bass/drums line-up gives things a retro, classic feel, but also maintains the focus on Staples’ voice, which has deepened slightly over the years but lost none of its heartfelt power and expression.
It’s not hard to guess the subject of such pointed lines such as “Trouble in the land. We can’t trust that man.” Elsewhere, there are songs of loss, need, faith and devotion. The subdued, brooding Heavy on My Mind finds her momentarily burdened by the length and enormity of her struggle. However, she perks up for Sometime before extraordinary closer One More Change finds her holding mortality at bay because she insists she has “one more change to make”.
A remarkable woman.