Mavis Staples: You Are Not Alone

Posted November 9, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Back to the basics: Staples’ powerful voice digs deeper into sacred traditional gospel and the blues on Jeff Tweedy-produced album

A gutsy, gritty 71-year old Mavis Staples still knows how to work her soulful stride, regardless of who or what she’s given to work with. Her last two projects on Anti-, We’ll Never Turn Back and the live-recorded Live at the Hideout, were the underground gems that properly displayed Staples’ effectiveness when tested on new sonics carved from past inspirations. It is that ambition to maintain her statue around beefy soul-stirring gospel and Southern comfort sounds that continues to draw new audiences to her skill. Without shying away from her gospel roots, Mavis Staples is placed in the hands of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on her third Anti- album, You Are Not Alone, and is giving a palette of warm Southern bluesy rock and simple arrangements that appropriately allows Staples to run the show.

She picks up a few cover songs from a comfortable selection of songs done by Tom Fogerty (“Wrote a Song for Everybody”) and Randy Newman (“Losing You”). Some of the songs fit reasonably into Stapes’ caliber, even in its back-and-forth playfulness from gospel to blues. The quartet drive of the Gary Davis update “I Belong to the Band (Hallelu)” and the funk rock of Allen Toussiant’s “Last Train,” using Pointer Sister spunk on the chorus (“huffin, puffin, chuggin’ like a cho-cho train”), both stand out as album favorites.

What keeps the album from deterring away from Staples’ roots and embedded in gospel, not just by its choice of respected gospel hymns like “Too Close To Heaven,” but Staples makes room for Pop Staples’ offerings like “Don’t Knock” and “Downward Road,” the latter using its trademark “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around” melody. Somehow the album gloats like a return to the Staple Singers’ gospel folk before their Stax pop nuggets.

Tweedy contributes a few originals to the set; shattering the idea of You Are Not Alone being another cover album like her critically-acclaimed We’ll Never Turn Back. His strongest, being the title track, walks like a Wilco offering but with an amped-up gospel chorus.

What the album somehow lacks, however, is its tug towards strong lyricism. The background music and Staples’ voice matches up quite well, but lyrically the songs never burst forward with enough relevance and freshness to walk alongside the performances. For example; “Only The Lord Knows” sounds like a song cut on the Staple Singers’ turf, but the lyrics are silly in its design (“Can’t trust him, can’t trust her, What to do, what to do/Only the Lord knows and he ain’t you”).What works much better this time around musically is Staples’ drift away from some of the museum-feeling tint of her last studio album. It gives her something special to honor both Staples’ past and present.




  • Release Date: 14 September 2010
  • Label: Anti-
  • Producers: Jeff Tweedy
  • Track Favs: I Belong to the Band (Hallelu), You Are Not Alone, Last Train

About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine

One Comment


    Ummm and this photo is from when?! Last christmas season?

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