Mavis Staples, “Livin’ on a High Note”

Mavis_Staples-2016-Livin_On_A_High_NoteMavis Staples
Livin’ on a High Note

Have we ever needed Mavis Staples more than we do right now? The ineffable spirit that powered her through the Civil Rights Movement has carried Staples into a late-career resurgence and makes the case for a joyful (and joy-fueled) approach to protest. Livin’ on a High Note leaves behind the meditative pace of 2013’s One True Vine, instead returning to the sprightly roots gospel of 2010’s You Are Not Alone. Producer M. Ward commissioned twelve different writers to compose songs for High Note, and what’s most remarkable here—other than Staples’ ebullience, her greatest attribute as a singer—is how unified these twelve songs sound. Squint closely and you can see the differences: tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus’ “Action” is the album’s most percussive track, and Nick Cave’s “Jesus Lay Down Beside Me” burns like an apocryphal cut from Push the Sky Away. But this is a trim, cohesive statement from a singular artist. Across High Note, Staples treats past trials as just that—passed—and celebrates how she got over. “Chicago wasn’t always easy,” she sings on “Take Us Back,” “but love made the Windy City breezy.”


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