Mavis Staples - We Get By - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mavis Staples - We Get By

by Steve Ricciutti Rating:8 Release Date:2019-05-24
Mavis Staples - We Get By
Mavis Staples - We Get By

From the iconic cover photo “Outside Looking In” by Gordon Parks, an evocative photograph from a 1956 photo essay showing a group of black children standing on the outside of a fence looking in at a playground, it is clear that the fourteenth and latest studio album from the legendary singer Mavis Staples is both timely and timeless. It's been the case over the course of mankind's history that turbulent times are reflected in art as our humanity is captured through artistic interpretations. It can be as well known and feted as the bizarre horror of Picasso's "Guernica" or as anonymous yet equally disturbing as the children's drawings done inside Nazi death camps. In the case of our current global Sturm und Drang, Trump's America has already been the muse for many an artist. That the situation has pulled Hall of Fame singer Mavis Staples into the maelstrom shows just how pervasively the toxicity has spread nearly three years into his administration

Ms. Staples, who turns eighty this summer, is a hugely respected and revered vocalist in the world of gospel, R & B, and soul music. Her family act The Staple Singers has been around since the 1950s and has been an influential component for countless acts across a variety of genres. It’s even worth noting that Bob Dylan once asked her father for her hand in marriage. Yet, Ms. Staples has not been content to rest on her laurels, recording, touring, and preaching the word long into her golden years. Her latest, We Get By, engages Ben Harper to produce and collaborate. The first single, "Changes," powerfully clarifies the tone of the record. Amidst a growling blues accompaniment, Staples sums up the last few years’ worths of headlines; “Fingers on the trigger ‘round here, bullets flyin’, mothers cryin.” “Brothers And Sisters” has a choral chant of “Something’s got to give” and speaks of “being brave in a scary world.” The chugging, addictive, gospel-flavored “Sometime” reminds us “everybody has to change sometime.” The messages are clear, but not pushy. They are loving and heartfelt, yet direct and inescapable. There's no denying that change is needed and that something's got to give. 

It isn't all politics and preaching, however. “Anytime” is an updated Motown bit of r & b, and the title track is a slow, encouraging, and soulful duet with Harper testifying to the ties that bind. On “Stronger” with a swampy bit of CCR-tinged funk, Staples touches back to blues standards that make it clear that no earthly delights can equal love. My personal tastes would’ve liked more of the harder-edged bluesy songs, but with a gift like Staples has, trying to put limitations on her amazing instrument is just foolish. Speaking of instruments, the backing band is tight and up to all the nuances and dynamics of the range of genres covered. They are red, hot, and blue. 

Indeed, the song styles target her strengths, moving from gritty blues, through seductive rhythm and blues and soul, and into empowering gospel, and Mavis Staples meets every challenge with her beautiful voice, one that seems to have not lost a single bit from the many years she’s been providing us with its gift. She is a national treasure and this album is as good a place as any to begin to investigate her catalog. 

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