Release Date: Apr 24, 2007
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): R&B, Gospel
The artist who Prince considers "the epitome of soul" will be 67 this year, but her work is not done. To go by her website, the former mainstay of the Staple Singers is a nostalgia act - "available for bookings in two separate formats" - but this record offers a different picture. Returning to her protest-singing roots, she has made an album of songs associated with the 1960s civil-rights movement.
The engine of ’70s gospel-pop hitmakers the Staples Singers gets a rootsy makeover on We’ll Never Turn Back, via a label very good at this sort of thing (Merle Haggard, Bettye LaVette). Guitarist/producer Ry Cooder’s tasteful, unfussy arrangements are sometimes saved from predictability by son Joachim, whose digital loops add frisson to songs using the civil rights movement as inspiration and backdrop. But Mavis Staples’ voice outshines all: rich, weathered, and full of fire, sometimes resolving in a cracked tone or a dark, knowing chuckle, her eyes still on the prize.
The longest cut here is "My Own Eyes," where Mavis performs a tune she wrote -- it's an emotional reverie, recounting her own family's journey through the civil rights movement as inspired by the late Dr. King. Her message is not necessarily poetic, but it's deeply moving and urgent. When she raises her voice to proclaim "I saw it with my own eyes/So I know it's true," there's no doubting.