She’ll take you there
Mavis Staples is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award winner, and a National Heritage Fellowship Award recipient. VH1 named her one of the 100 Greatest Women of Rock and Roll, and Rolling Stone listed her as one of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time.
But the legendary soul singer is obviously not content to rest on her laurels, with a bold new album coming out next month, produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, and a punishing schedule of live performances that has her criss-crossing the country and even heading to Switzerland later this fall.
Staples will be in town Saturday as the headliner for the Land Trust’s Stars at North Star House fundraising concert.
Staples began her career with her family group in 1950. Initially singing locally at churches and appearing on a weekly radio show, the Staples scored a hit in 1956 with “Uncloudy Day.” Led by Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the Staples were called “God’s Greatest Hitmakers.”
By the mid-1960s, the Staple Singers, inspired by Pops’ close friendship with Martin Luther King Jr., became the spiritual and musical voices of the civil rights movement, singing message songs like “Long Walk to D.C.” and “When Will We Be Paid?”
The Staple Singers hit the Top 40 eight times between 1971 and 1975, including two No. 1 singles, “I’ll Take You There” and “Let’s Do It Again.”
Staples made her first solo foray with “Crying in the Chapel” in the late 1960s and released her first solo album in 1969. In 1993, she released “The Voice,” which People magazine named one of the top 10 albums of 1993.
Staples made a major national return with the release of the album “Have a Little Faith” in 2004. The album featured spiritual music, some of it semi-acoustic. “We’ll Never Turn Back” was released in 2007. The Ry Cooder-produced concept album focused on gospel songs of the civil rights movement and also included two new original songs by Cooder.
Her new album, “You Are Not Alone,” is the follow-up to “We’ll Never Turn Back” and to 2009’s Grammy-nominated live album “Hope at the Hideout.” It stakes out surprising new territory for Staples by matching her with Tweedy.
“All of these songs are me, but in a different way, with a different sound,” Staples said in a press release. “The phrasing, the tempos, the arrangements are different, but the messages are the same things I’ve been saying down through the years. They’re about the world today – poverty, jobs, welfare, all of that – and making it feel better through these songs.”
Staples claims that she has done so much diverse work recently that, until Tweedy helped guide the way, she wasn’t sure of her direction.
“I didn’t know which way to turn,” she said. “Did I want to do a country record, a gospel record, or what? So I needed a sound like this – something that fit my message, but flowed in a different direction from where I would normally take a song so it wasn’t just the same old, same old.
“I wanted to make an album where every song had meaning, where every song told a story and would lift you up and give you a reason to get up in the morning,” she added. “And I know it’s going to feel really good singing these songs on stage.”
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