Mavis Staples "Livin' On a High Note

It’s often the case that singers are inspired by a song. In the case of Mavis Staples’ latest album it is the singer who inspires the music. A select group of musicians were offered the opportunity to create material for the legend. After being charmed by Pharrell William’s “Happy” Ms. Staples got hooked on the idea of creating an album of joyful songs.  After years of singing civil rights anthems and politically conscious music it was time to stretch out and rejoice. With that said, there are several tracks that do touch on current social issues.

Livin’ on a High Note features an ingenious mix of writers who bend their musical perspectives toward Ms. Staples. Benjamin Booker’s debut album was fueled by raw punk rock infused blues. His offering “Take Us Back” opens the album. It’s a high energy funky soul confirmation of familial support.  Ben Harper brings a Staples family sensibility to “Love and Trust,” a folk-rock search for inner strength. The folk band The Head & the Heart offer a soulful ballad “If It’s a Light.” Meryl Garbus, who records as tUnE-yArds leaves her off-kilter impression on “Action” a terrific song about personal responsibility. Valerie June contributes vocals to the album’s title track. Neko Case’s “History Now” is the obviously political song. Also contributing to the album is Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Aloe Blacc

Gospel music has been an important element in Mavis Staples career. Son Little’s “One Love” touches on spirituality, but it is the dark rocker, Nick Cave, who offers the most religious song. “Jesus Lay Down Beside Me” proposes that the Lord take rest and respite from the burdens of the world. Livin’ on a High Note ends with “MLK Song.” Written by the album’s producer, M.Ward, the song features the words of Reverend King – who also gets songwriting credit. It’s a beautiful way to wrap up a cycle of songs that honor the spirit, talent, and legacy of a great woman and music legend.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)

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