Mavis Staples, along with her father and sisters (Cleotha, Pervis, and Yvonne), was a member of the legendary Staple Singers from 1948-1994. They were a gospel-based rhythm and blues group who reached their popular and commercial apex with a series of releases for the legendary Stax label from 1968-1975.
She has also enjoyed a respected solo career. Her father, “Pops” Staples was a friend of Martin Luther King, and she has been active in the civil rights movement for four decades. She performed at the Presidential Inaugurations of John Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. It was only appropriate that her latest solo release was issued on Election Day, 2008.
Live: Hope At The Hideout was recorded in June of this year at the Hideout Club in Chicago. This small capacity venue created an intimate setting for her rhythm and blues styling. Mavis may be 69 years old, but she has lost none of her vocal power and energy. She not only sings, but also in a real way preaches her message.
There is a purity to this release. She is backed only by a basic three-piece group and back-up singers, which puts the focus squarely on her vocals.
From the opening notes of the classic song, “For What It’s Worth,” you quickly realize you are in for a treat. Her phrasing, vocal quality, and range give the song new meaning and vibrancy. When she sings, “Paranoia strikes deep,” you can’t help but sit up and listen.
Five of the twelve tracks were taken from her 2007 album, We’ll Never Turn Back, which was produced by Ry Cooder. This was an album that reached back to her civil rights roots and it is a treat to hear her perform some of these songs live. “Eyes On The Prize,” “Down In Mississippi,” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” are performed by an artist who has lived and experienced the songs. She brings an honesty to them which serves to heighten their emotional impact.
Her three-song encore begins with an introduction of one of the first songs she learned. “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” is a gospel-based tour de force. She ends with her hit “I’ll Take You There.”
Mavis Staples is now five decades into her career and any performance by her can be considered historic. Live: Hope At The Hideout is a fine addition to her legacy.