Possibly the most underrated female soul singer today, Mavis Staples has had an unbelievably long career including a stint on Stax Records where she was a solo artist and also a part of The Staples Singles and amassed a decent amount of hits while with the label’s biggest selling family act.
Though she kept releasing albums both solo and with The Staples long after their tenure with Stax ended when the label went belly-up, she pretty much disappeared from the public eye until she recorded an album in the late ’80’s for Prince’s Paisley Park Records with the Purple One himself in the producer’s chair. While the album was admittedly mediocre (the knock was more for the lackluster material than for Staples’ still-glorious pipes), the effort served to raise her profile and remind music fans about her talent. Fast forward another fifteen years or so when the label Anti comes a’ callin’. Realizing her immense talent and he ability to take any song and make it her own, producer extraordinaire T-Bone Burnett decides to make Staples his latest entry into the let’s-revive-a-little-known-but-much-deserving-artist’s-career-by-making-their-best-album-ever sweepstakes.
As usual Burnett came through as did Staples, once again proving herself one of popular music’s greatest talents. But then again, Staples has always been a smart record label’s secret weapon. Whenever you need an album to be critically acclaimed and worshiped by a relatively small but influential coterie of journalists and music-lovers, you get Staples to sing on it and get Burnett to produce it and you’ve just written about five hundred glowing reviews without having to write anything, if you get my drift. As far as this album goes, nothing has changed. Despite Burnett’s overabundance of producing and performing talent, it is Staples who brings the fury on this album, one of her few officially released live sets. Thanks to ace production which seemingly puts you in the front of the club (Seriously, I don’t think I’ve heard a live album quite as “live” as this one. You feel like you’re actually there! It’s quite goosepimply and intense.) Staples’ voice gets inside your soul as her incredible vocal prowess dazzles and dominates the proceedings. The songs consist of mostly spirituals with some contemporary covers thrown in, but when Staples sings anything, they pretty much become her compositions and it is no different here.
With a power house band and Staples at the top of her game, this live album, instantly becomes one of the best of the year. Pick it up and see for yourself. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the storm Staples brings down. Simply excellent.