When she was 11 years old, Mavis Staples was singing lead for her family gospel/soul/pop group the Staple Singers, whose music not only provided support and inspiration for the Civil Rights Movement but later ascended the charts with nuggets like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There." Sixty years later, Staples is still going strong, her marvelous, power-packed voice a wonder of growls, cries, and whispers that stir up a lifetime of emotions. After initially struggling to find a solo contemporary niche, Staples returned to her strengths—gospel roots and civil rights standards—and her revived career has soared. This fall's You Are Not Alone, produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, even more specifically returns to the Staple Singers' legacy of spare, sharply focused arrangements of material that blur the lines between gospel, soul, R&B, and pop. Two Tweedy originals—the laid-back but emotionally charged title track and the bluesy, politically charged "Only the Lord Knows"—along with distinctive covers of Randy Newman, Allen Toussaint, and John Fogerty are matched with a handful of trad gospel tunes and a few written by the Staples' late patriarch Pops. Mavis rolls through it all with stylish assurance, her raw energy and uplifting spirit rumbling out of her rich lower register. And she saves perhaps the best for last: a splendid a capella run through the gospel standard "Wonderful Savior" with two backup singers, plus Pops's "All the Way to Heaven," sparked by Rick Holmstrom's Delta blues guitar, celestial harmonies, and gritty call-and-response vocals, Mavis's voice a glowing, resonant force of nature. With Roma di Luna.
Sun., Nov. 28, 7 p.m., 2010
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