What I Missed In 2016: Mavis Staples’ Livin’ On A High Note

Since I launched this blog in March, I have tried to write about as many wonderful things as I can, in essays, the podcast, and every Friday in the New Release Roundup. Try as I might, I can’t write about all the good stuff coming out. This will be my annual attempt to correct that. For the next ten days, I’ll be highlighting albums I missed in 2016. To cast an even wider net, I’ve enlisted some talented friends to write about some of their favorites this year. You can read that here.

Mavis StaplesLivin’ On A High Note
Go ahead and try to be sad listening to this album. I dare you. Think of dead puppies and toothaches and presidential candidates. Put on your itchiest sweater and answer that phone call from Amway. Not working is it? That’s because it’s impossible to not be happy listening to Mavis Staples. She’s a big hug from your mom in front of your buddies. She’s twenty bucks on the sidewalk when you’re broke and hungry. If we dropped Mavis music on the troubled regions of the world (with a little food) we’d get to peace in a hurry and then we could work on some problems. “I’m working on me,” she sings on “Take Us Back,” “I’m taking some time to see the people who keep me going.” On the Ben Harper-penned “Love and Trust,” she sings, “Do what you can, might not be enough/When you’re trying to find yourself some love and trust.” That’s part of what makes Staples’ message effective. It’s not that she’s saying, “everything’s going to be okay no matter what.” There is an acknowledgment in these songs that there is a lot of work and trouble ahead before you get to the good stuff. “If it’s us against the world, well I would bet on us,” she sings on “Dedicated,” “But if you go yours and I go mine/All bets are off.” Give M. Ward credit for setting the table, producing and playing on the album and writing songs like that one. And there a lot of talented writers, including Valerie June, Neko Case, and Nick Cave, contributed the songs. But the spirit of it is all Mavis Staples. If you’re bracing yourself for the New Year, pick this up and let it pick you up.

“Love and Trust”

“High Note”


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