Thursday, 18 November 2010
MAVIS STAPLES at the JAZZ CAFE, LONDON
Seeing artists of a certain vintage fall into three categories: the “to be honest they were pretty crap but at least I can say I’ve seen them” category; the “they’re okay and played all their old hits”; and occasionally there’s the “instead of living off former glories they’re still moving forward and producing the goods”. Bob Dylan can straddle all three in a one night and Mavis Staples right now is proudly rooted in the third.
With a set consisting almost exclusively of her new album, You Are Not Alone , she is in commanding form, pushing herself with grace, dignity, infectious humour and fierce determination. For 60 years she’s worked audiences from the churches of Chicago, to civil rights marches, to large rock venues, so an intimate club gig like this is a doddle, yet everything looks so natural and not in the least contrived. There’s plenty of patter with the crowd and a smile and an aura of inspiration that radiates around her - she’s impossible not to love.
Old spirituals like “Creep Along, Moses” and “Wonderful Savior” stand shoulder to shoulder with well chosen covers of Little Milton’s “We’re Gonna Make It” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “I Wrote A Song For Everyone” whilst the fabulous album title track is the song of the year in my book. The Staple Singers had a happy knack of making gospel songs accessible to pop audiences and giving pop songs a gospel grounding and that tradition still holds.
Her band is a simple guitar, bass and drums three piece who subscribe to the less is more style of playing, leaving plenty of space of Mavis and her three backing singers – including Staples Singer sister Yvonne – to do their thing; although it only takes Mavis, a solitary guitar barely brushed, and Randy Newman’s “Losing You” to engulf the place in a reverential hush - apart from one dick at the bar to loudly exclaim “Ten quid for a glass of wine?!”
The only classics are “The Weight” and “I’ll Take You There” but it matters not. It's testament to Mavis I wouldn’t have it any other way.