Mavis Staples - Live in London - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mavis Staples - Live in London

by Brian Thompson Rating:8 Release Date:2019-02-08
Mavis Staples - Live in London
Mavis Staples - Live in London

Just over a decade ago, Mavis Staples signed with ANTI- Records, and what a brilliant move it turned out to be. Since switching labels, Staples has seen an unexpected career resurgence marked by frequent and inspired studio albums produced by the likes of Ry Cooder and Jeff Tweedy, and now two solid live recordings. Live albums are always a gamble, but her latest, Live in London, truly captures the atmosphere of the room. As she carries some of her undeniable, relentless charisma across the pond, she has crafted one of her finest works to date, proving herself beyond the shadow of a doubt as the once and future mouthpiece of soul.

The setlist is a brilliant sampling of her abilities as an iconic vocalist, although Mavis Staples could probably perform an entire evening of nursery rhymes and still earn a standing ovation. A lone blues guitar opens “Love and Trust,” and the audience is clapping along with the beat even before Staples makes a grand entrance with her deep-felt growl. Before long, the band fills in the gaps in the rhythm, and the number ends with a heartfelt spoken interlude reminiscent of a Southern preacher as she paves the way for the spiritual urgency in the haunting call and response of ”Who Told You That.” Next, a funky rock groove kicks in as she makes Talking Heads classic ”Slippery People” – a track that was already ripe for a gospel reimagining – entirely her own.

Before belting out “What You Gonna Do,” a smooth, rolling down-home swinger, Staples takes a moment to call upon the blues giants and invoke the spirits of “the Windy City –  Chicago, Illinois – the home of the blues.” It’s a touching moment that leads seamlessly into backyard barbeque jam session”Take Us Back,” a hearty acknowledgement of her appreciation for her loved ones, as the backing chorus cheers her on (“Mavis take us back / Mavis take us back now”) before she peels away the layers of sound to break it down for the audience. Just when the energy level seems to have reached its peak, the players reign it in for album standout ”You’re Not Alone,” a tender, smoky ballad that is sure to convert even the most skeptical critics.

With ”No Time For Cryin’,” Staples picks up the tempo with a stirring call to arms that also serves as a band showcase, as each performer gets a moment in the spotlight. It’s only fitting that they then join together as a family for a bluesy take on the Funkadelic classic ”Can You Get to That.” Continuing the tonal build, they follow it up with a stripped down take on the Curtis Mayfield penned hit "Let's Do It Again," a gripping reminder of the potency of the glory days of The Staple Singers, as well as an opportunity for Mavis Staples to distinguish herself as a solo artist, bridging the past and present.

The performance goes out on a sweet note, with a pair of sweeping declarations of everlasting love, soulful slow jam “Dedicated” and the rousing rocker “We’re Gonna Make It,” both finding Staples nearly overcome with emotion. Of course, the people demand an encore, and Staples takes the stage once again, only to be surprised with a hearty ”Happy Birthday” before expressing her deepest gratitude both for her fans’ adoration and for living to see another year. She leaves the crowd dancing with “Touch a Hand,” shouting out all of the dedicated performers sharing the spotlight with her and giving everything she’s got in this rally cry for the power of community.

With Live in London, Mavis Staples draws the audience in, exhibiting her full force as a performer, even in a recording of her stage show. We aren’t physically there in the audience, but we may as well have been. Now nearly eighty years old, Staples still throws down with the limitless energy of youth. She offers hope and understanding in these uncertain times, but what’s more, she continues to wow us with damn good music.


Comments (1)

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Great review Brian. I was lucky to catch her set at Moon River festival last Fall. I was blown away by her energy and strong voice. She takes her role as civil rights soldier seriously and it was inspiring to see.

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