Mavis Staples, "Livin' On A High Note" (Anti-)
Mavis Staples takes a joyful turn on "Livin' On A High Note," covering a dozen songs mostly from musicians decades her junior.
Staples has been on a hot streak since 2004, releasing four top-notch studio albums — including 2010 Grammy winner "You Are Not Alone," produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy — while sticking mostly to traditional songs and songwriters from her generation.
Here, material written especially for Staples by the likes of Ben Harper, Justin Vernon, Son Little, Neko Case, Benjamin Booker and Aloe Blacc is deftly adapted by producer/guitarist M. Ward to fit her expressive, unembellished voice.
Harper's "Love And Trust" is soulful, with haunting background vocals and a slinky basslin,."Action" from the Tune-Yards echoes Curtis Mayfield's advocacy, while Ward's "Don't Cry" resembles a funkier, grown-up version of "Alright" by Supergrass.
Staples often sings in short, sharp phrases, her vocals taking on an almost conversational tone, transmitting feelings without having to resort to musical acrobatics.
The album ends with a highlight, as Staples returns to her civil rights roots on "MLK Song." Accompanied only by Ward's acoustic guitar, she delves into 1940s gospel hymn "If I Can Help Somebody," as adapted by Martin Luther King Jr. while envisioning his own funeral in one of his last sermons.
Not every track's a winner, but Staples helps show there is plenty of talent among the young'uns.