Mavis Staples – Live: Hope at the Hideout

January 01, 1970






What goes around, comes around. Soul music came out of
gospel all those decades ago – Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” and “Hallelujah I
Love Her So” – and quickly infused pop (and rock) with a churchy intensity, a
dream of salvation and fear of damnation, that left all the Perry Comos and Kay
Starrs wondering what happened. Rock ‘n’ roll happened. The Staple Singers
certainly were among the countless African-American acts who moved from the
church to the pop charts (“I’ll Take You There,” “Let’s Do It Again”), but they
stayed a little closer to their source than most, in part because the group saw
a parallel between the righteousness of black gospel and the civil-rights


Now, at age 69, Mavis Staples has triumphantly returned to
gospel with this album recorded live in a small Chicago club called the Hideout just last
June. But she’s brought with her everything she’s learned from decades of
performing secular R&B and rock – a seamlessly tight, hot band featuring
the explosively bluesy, sinewy Creedence-like guitar of Rick Holmstrom, the
propulsive drumming of Stephen Hodges and her own persuasively plaintive and
contemporarily urgent voice that is upfront, relevant, intimate yet capable of


Following last year’s great Ry Cooder-produced studio album,
We’ll Never Turn Back, this covers some of its songs – “Eyes on the
Prize,” “Down in Mississippi,” “This Little Light,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” –
along with reprising some songs she has done previously, such as Buffalo
Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and “Freedom Highway.” Holmstrom’s funky
guitar introduces “Freedom Highway” like a kissin’ cousin of “Turn On Your
Lovelight,” and Staples takes it from there. Her longtime fans will compare
this with the Staples’ 1965 live gospel album Freedom Highway, but it’s
as fiery as anything live to come out of the 1960s (or afterward), including
James Brown’s classic Live at the Apollo. It’s also jubilant. The
recording captures Staples’ give-and-take with the audience – she even lets
them sing the title refrain of encore “I’ll Take You There.” Her back-up
singers sound so physically and intuitively close to her (her sister Yvonne is
one of them) that you imagine them welded into her vocal cords.


Wisely released by Anti- on Election Day, Live is
also reminder of all it took to get to the point where Sen. Barack Obama is
running for President. Her voice and songs are testimony to the fact the
journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been triumphant. So is this record.


Standout Tracks: “Freedom Highway,”
“I’ll Take You There” STEVEN ROSEN



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