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Mavis Staples - We'll Never Turn Back

We'll Never Turn Back

Mavis Staples

Anti- 86830

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A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Bob Gottlieb

Rarely when there is a coming together of such huge forces, or talents as are assembled here, does the end result far exceed the wildest expectations (expectations in themselves generally lead to disappointment); we have here the result of such a convergence of this unification of energies. There were whispers of this joining of two such mega-forces which fueled the imagination, and when you put the disc in and you hear the first strains of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo's introduction, that is so fraught with uneasiness, of JB Lenoir's Down In Mississippi, and then Mavis' voice comes into the picture that you almost don't realize the sinister guitar work of Ry Cooder, that helps to build the emotional tension of the song. This is further reinforced by the undated and personal nature lyrics by these two collaborators.

This is both a return to the beginning and at the same time a summit of many years work. Mavis grew up singing in the church and many of the songs were songs that were adapted by the Civil Rights Movement, which she and her family, The Staples Singers, were both strongly supportive of, and spokespersons for. They helped provide the musical voice that went with the speeches and thoughts of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others protesting both the Vietnam War and the extensive racism/segregation that was rampant in the United States during the 60's.

This disc is a return to those songs of message and protest, they are about universal concerns that affect the living conditions of large numbers of people, and about what is the humane way to treat others. These songs are sung with a passion and conviction because they are so personally close to Staples, and the way she lives her life. Though they are songs from an era they are not contained by the era; they are fresh and alive today because of Mavis' ability to improvise new verses from within her own life on the fly and relate them to what is now. She is backed and at the same time pushed, on all but the first three songs, by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's Freedom Singers; Rutha Harris, Charles Neblett & Bettie-Mae Frikes. These are people who were in the front lines of the same fights and protests that were taking place in the deep South at this time, people who know what it was like and are here today living, and not living in the past.

The contribution of Ry Cooder and the exceptional musicians he has assembled; his son Joachim Cooder, percussion, Mike Elizondo, bass and piano, Jim Keltner drums, and the afore mentioned vocal groups can not be under-estimated; and to say the music is played with a passion and feeling would not do it justice in the least. Truly the most passionate and heart felt disc I have heard. An exceptional piece that seems to know no boundaries and grows stronger with each listening.

Track List:

  • Down In Mississippi
  • Eyes On The Prize
  • We Shall Not Be Moved
  • In The Mississippi River
  • On My Way
  • This Little Light
  • 99 and 1/2
  • My Own Eyes
  • Turn Me Around
  • We'll Never Turn Back
  • I'll Be Rested
  • Jesus Is On The Main Line
Produced by Ry Cooder

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2007, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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