Recording

Mavis Staples: We’ll Never Turn Back

Mavis Staples
We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti)

Mavis Staples’ deeply soulful voice is enough to move the believer in all of us, and she delivers a career performance on her first solo album for Anti (a label that continues to build one of the coolest rosters around). We’ll Never Turn Back is a collection of “freedom songs”—gospel-fueled anthems of the civil rights movement that resonate for the longtime artist/activist, particularly now after witnessing the suffering of black Americans in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans. Staples injects so much feeling into songs such as “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “This Little Light” that they seem reborn. Backing up the legendary singer is a rocking blues combo led by Staples’ producer, stringed-instrument genius Ry Cooder. His stylish arrangements feature his own delicate Delta blues guitar and mandolin work, the great Jim Keltner on drums and Cooder’s son Joachim adding percussion. Mike Elizondo plays bass, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo become a backing gospel choir on the first few tracks. Like so many of Cooder’s projects, the musical creation is even greater than the sum of its parts. This is a gorgeous album that inspires as much as it entertains.

Must Play: “On My Way”

Producer: Ry Cooder. Engineer: Martin Pradler. Studio: Sound City Studio (Van Nuys, Calif.). Mastering: Bernie Grundman/Bernie Grundman Mastering (Hollywood).

—Barbara Schultz

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