11 years is entirely too long for a voice as majestic as Mavis Staples’ to be studio silent. I did cartwheels when I heard she was back in the studio cutting a new record and back flips when I finally heard it. There are few artists that can lay off recording for over a decade and still deliver the goods as they did before.
There was never any doubt in my mind that this magnificent singer would not disappoint. Have A Little Faith (Alligator Records) is the name of her new album and it is exactly what you think its title hints at: blues-infused gospel served up funky and hot the way we like it. Did you really expect anything else?
Of course you didn’t, and Mavis does not disappoint with the album’s opening number, “Step Into The Light,” a stirring exploration into gospel/folk ground deliciously accented by the backing harmonies of The Dixie Hummingbirds.
The teachings of one's parents are lessons most of us carry throughout our lives, and Mavis pays tribute to her dad, Pops, on a funky five-minute opus, entitled “Pops' Recipe,” that reflects his teachings of accepting responsibility and being the best person you can be. Not a bad thought, huh?
The title tune is an exercise in modern day gospel perfection, delivering its message of belief via Staples’ wholehearted throaty vocals. “God Is Not Sleeping” is a slow bluesy number that, like the title number, sends a reminder of things possibly greater than us.
“See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” is a statement that is familiar to most blues fans and is taken from a traditional piece “A Dying Man’s Plea,” whose lyrics were written by Mavis’ dad, whom I think would be pleased with the rendition turned in here.
Asking forgiveness for not expressing gratitude for what has been bestowed is the subject of “I Wanna Thank You.” It’s a rather humble apology featuring some lovely harmonies and swishing B3 melodies via the nimble fingers of Chris “Hambone” Cameron, whose contributions to this album lift it to a higher plain.
“I Still Believe In You” is a downright funky number that cooks from its opening bars to its final notes, making it a very danceable number.
Mavis pulls back the reins a bit for a catchy toe tapper entitled “At The End Of The Day” that states no matter what your race, color, creed or status in life is, we are still all equal in the great game of life.
Social consciousness and the dark side of things is at the forefront of “There’s A Devil On The Loose,” which goes hand in hand with the following piece, “In Times Like These,” which was co-written by co-producer Jim Tullio in tribute to a couple of friends that perished in 9/11. The Chicago Community Choir lend their joyous voices to this very moving number, making its impact that much more hard hitting.
The first song Mavis learned from her dad was “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.” It seems only appropriate that this closes this wonderfully brilliant recording on a very uplifting note as Mavis keeps the musical circle of distinction that is associated with the name Staples indeed unbroken.
Have A Little Faith represents not only the return to recording of one of the most inspirational voices of our time, but also as an update to the folk Delta blues/gospel sound that has been trademarked by The Staple Singers. I found this album to be the perfect cure for anyone with a case of the personal blues, as its content and performance can’t help but to make you feel good. Mavis sounds as good as she ever has. The long layoff has in no way affected the amazing gift of a voice she has been blessed with.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed it won’t be another decade before she graces us with another recording as pristine as this one.
Welcome back, Mavis. It’s so good to have you back where you belong!
--- Steve Hinrichsen
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