Today's review is by guest writer Patrick Jenkins, a good friend of mine.
Few records continue to sound as fresh to my ears as Mavis Staples’ 2007 release, We’ll Never Turn Back. Jim Keltner’s drums are funky and organic; Ry Cooder’s soulful, quirky guitar work and gritty production are satisfying and capture the spirit of the performances, leaving plenty of nice ‘mistakes’; the background vocals are deep and nuanced, and every song is sung with the passion of an artist/activist with something to say at the peak of her career.
This is not a throw-back record, reviving the songs of the 1950s and 1960s Civil Rights Movement – although those songs are here in fine form. No, this is a record for the here and now; the songs are every bit as poignant, bitter, and, most importantly, hopeful as they have ever been. When I listen to this album I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself, inspired by her passion and the joyful purpose she brings to each track.
It’s also just a fun record to listen to –it feels good. Nice grooves with plenty of rough-and-tumble percussion support rhythm tracks that blend with rootsy guitar. The background vocals from Ladysmith Black Mambazo and a cast of gospel singers add depth and soul and of course Mavis is front and center. Her voice is rich and full of warmth and character; funky, sweet but also mournful and angry when the song calls for it.
What I love most about this record is that it sounds like they had an absolute blast making it. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn they laughed and told stories and drank a little wine between takes.
This music is for everyone and especially Americans wondering what it means to love your neighbor as yourself in light of our shared history and turbulent present. The themes of sacrifice and struggle are present but so are the themes of unity, joy, and hope. That resonates deeply and I love listening to this record and encountering the spirit I hear in the music._____________________
Patrick Jenkins is a musician and solo artist (you can check his music out here: http://patrickjenkins.virb.com/) and also the music director at St. Mark's Lutheran church in Washington, Illinois. He's a husband, a dad, and is currently in school in preparation for being an ordained pastor. You can check out the interview I did with Patrick a few years ago here: "Interview Exclusive!: Patrick Jenkins"
Other Entries in the PostHumous Record Review Series
Newsboys' Love Liberty Disco
This Train's Mimes of the Old West and The Emperor's New Band
Aaron Sprinkle's Bareface
Over the Rhine's Drunkard's Prayer
PostHumous Record Review Week (an introduction)