For the better part of seven decades, the inimitable Mavis Staples has served us all as prophet and priest. At times, the gospel legend stands and sings from the periphery with a harsh prophetic voice, calling us all toward our better selves. At other moments, she's wrapping arms around the listener, a trusted pastoral figure in which we can confide.
One of the most resonant songs Mavis Staples has been handed since her 2000s resurgence is "Love and Trust." Staples values the Ben Harper composition enough to have put it at the top of the set list for Live in London, and emphasized it even more by sharing the performance on Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2019, ahead of the parent release. With Live in London only three months old, Staples returns with another studio LP, this one written and produced by Harper.
Mavis Staples carves out a little space for herself on "Heavy on My Mind," a time-stopping song on her fifth album of the 2010s. The mood is dark, the music spare: just a steely electric guitar, a distant tambourine that sounds like rattling chains, and Staples' mighty voice. She's mic'd so close you can hear the breath catch in her throat between words, subtle exhalations that reveal her sincerity as well as her age.
Over half a century after her voice was at the forefront of America's civil rights era, Mavis Staples is still crying out for Change. The bluesy backbeat opening track of her 12th studio album confronts recent shootings in the US before she concludes, brilliantly, "What good is freedom if we haven't learned to be free?" The former Staple Singers icon, who turns 80 in July, is in fearsome, eclectic form here. The title track is a lovely soul song about survival, and Brothers and Sisters is a funk rocker about unity.