Friday, 23 March 2007

Album Review: We'll Never Turn Back

As musical activists in the 1960s, The Staple Singers were powerful voices for equality and change. Working with Dr. Martin Luther King and singing in support of the Civil Right movement, they drew on their spirituality and the strength of the church to achieve social justice.

Mavis Staples' new album, We'll Never Turn Back, combines raw, emotional, contemporized versions of some of the freedom songs, along with other traditional songs, that provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and original material written by Staples and producer Ry Cooder. Having helped to define what is righteous and soulful in A merican music, this is Staples' most electrifyingly personal and polemical album of her career.

Ry Cooder and his son, Joaquin, drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Mike Elizando, many of the original Freedom Singers and South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo create soundscapes for Mavis' deep-in-the-well, heartfelt vocals to flourish. Mavis ad-libs spoken and sung commentary on several songs, connecting the lyrics to her own life, her family and the issues of the day.

Traditional numbers like This Little Light and 99 ½ are given a new lease of life by Staples' incredible voice and Ry Cooder's powerful arrangements, while the cover of Southern bluesman J.B. Lenoir's Down In Mississippi is an early stand out moment. The new material, however, more than matches up to the feeling of the traditional songs; the title track - co-written by Staples and Cooder - and the Cooder-penned I'll Be Rested both recall the pounding emotion of 1960s gospel music.

Not only a deeply personal account of Mavis' life from her childhood days in Mississippi, through the Civil Rights era and up to her current indignation over the continuing treatment of some Americans as second class citizens, We'll Never Turn Back is a wonderful homage to a period in which everyday citizens exhibited incredible bravery and wrought incredible changes to society, retrieving some of the most treasured voices in contemporary music and finding that behind it lies an inspirational force.

No comments: