The highly anticipated new EP from Mavis Staples in collaboration with Son Little has finally been released on Anti-Records. Staples, at the age of 75, shows very little sign of slowing down soon: she’s still touring, including a date in London this summer at the Clapham Grand and, more excitingly, a spot this year at Glastonbury. As for her voice, Staples remains one of the singers in popular music.
On the first single of the EP, also entitled ‘Your Good Fortune’, Son Little has created a great modern blues track: Staples’ vocals are stunning, whilst the background vocals are somewhat haunting in their support of Staples. The track itself is largely stripped back, allowing space for Staples to do what she does best; the raw emotion that she pours onto the track is quite incredible. As we wrote elsewhere, the song has a similar to feel of the recent collaboration between Adrian Younge and The Delfonics. Indded, the stripped back nature of the song suits Staples well, carrying on the similar sound pursued by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy on Staples’ last albums.
The next single, ‘Fight’, is an uptemo piece of social commentary harking back to the Staples Singers’ seventies output of Freedom Highway. Staples sings about the needs of the poor, and the need for social justice: ‘Though I’m tired’ she sings, ‘this can’t wait’. The background vocals are equally good on this track, offering a gospel feel to the songs message, particularly when Staples crys: ‘Talking about Jesus but you treat people dead wrong.’ Whilst it may not make reference to these, the song must clearly resonate in American society today, with the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Selma, as well as the various shootings of unarmed black men across the nation. This is undoubtedly a civil rights song for the modern era.
The EP concludes with two covers, the first is the blues standard ‘See That My Grave is Kept Clean‘, written by Blind Lemon Jefferson and covered so many times its difficult to keep track of who has recorded the song. That said, Staples’ version is very good: drenched in blues, Staples wails out, urging that the ‘Lord have mercy on my soul’. Son Little’s arrangement is again very stripped back, featuring some Pops Staples-esque guitar licks.
The final song is a cover of the Pops Staples song ‘Wish I Had Answered’, a gospel infused song complete with handclaps and tambourine. It is perhaps the weakest song on the EP, but that is a testament to the overall strength Staples and Son Little have achieved with Your Good Fortune.
Mavis Staples is a soul survivor – arguably the female soul survivor: no one of her generation, not even Aretha, has recorded so consistently over the past two decades, nor has anyone similar found a completely new audience through her latest work. Having seen Staples live last year on her 75th birthday at the Clapham Grand, I cannot urge you enough to check out one of her live performances: she may struggle getting on and off stage a little, but when the music hits, she still has it.