Raves for live Mavis disc!

Posted 01/21/09

" 'We've come tonight to bring you some joy, some happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations!' Mavis Staples tells the audience at Chicago's Hideout club, a promise she stylishly fulfills in a set drawn predominantly from last year's Ry Cooder produced We'll Never Turn Back album of civil rights anthems and blues. There's not a dull moment in earshot, whether she's personalising JB Lenoir's 'Down In Mississippi' with her own recollections of drinking fountain apartheid, engaging in a call and response workout with the audience on 'Wade In The Water', or leading them in sing-a-longs of 'Will The Circle Be Unbroken' and the Staples Singers hit 'I'll take You There'. Her voice's larygitic burr is extraordinarily potent for a 69 year old, and there's a frisson of hope discernible in the delivery of a song like 'Eyes On The Prize', a civil rights rallying cry lent fresh pertinence by Barack Obama's campaign for the US presidency. And major kudos to the guitarist Rick Holmstrom, who turns in a virtuoso performance completely concealing the sparseness of the rest of the line-up. 5 Stars."
-- The Independent (London, UK newspaper) September 11, 2008

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"Chicago's live music club The Hideout hosted the thunderous sound of Mavis Staples when she played an intimate hometown gig in June. Hope At The Hideout (Anti-) records that glorious evening, as the civil rights warrior and youngest of the Staples Singers sets out to give her audience '...some joy, happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations' by blasting through a set of protest anthems from her latest album and Staples Singers classics. It's a joyous affair, Staples rasping growl adding grit and sensuality to the simplest song: the incantatory Wade In the Water and sunny gospel standard This Little Light are transformed into swamp blues belters with an indecent amount of funk. With just three backup singers and a three-piece band, it's a rugged and raw set given depth by Rick Holmstrom's eerily echoing electric guitar. Staples reminiscences about why her grandma moaned all the time and why her father was named Roebuck add to the delight, and an encore rendition of I'll Take You There is divine."

-- Metro (UK) November 14, 2008

"Fantastic live slab from a living legend recorded at the intimate Hideout in Chicago. Mavis is the reason to buy this album, but West Coast guitarist Rick Holmstrom is her secret weapon."

-- Roots Music New Blog list of Favorite Music of 2008

"Mavis Staples has nothing left to prove. She's one of the great singers of the last half-century. Her 2007 studio album, "We'll Never Turn Back," updated her civil rights-era conviction. Then she hit the road with a terrific new band that brought a spooky gravity to her latest songs. That band is documented on "Hope at the Hideout," and Staples rides the groove and improvises over it. When all the instruments drop out save for a trebly guitar, and the singer pours out "Waiting for My Child" like an unanswered prayer, involuntary shivers run along the listener's spine.

Like all live albums, "Hope" is a snapshot of an artist at work.

And like the best live albums, it transcends its moment with a performance that demands to be heard again and again."

--Syndicated columnist Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone writer and DJ. He lists his favorite all time live records lumping Mavis in with U2, The Clash and others.

"Mavis Staples' voice is an American antiquity, every bit as statuesque as the south face of Mt. Rushmore and rather better endowed with the female principle. Here she is, in her 70th year, recorded last June in a club in Chicago, crunching through her epic back catalogue with a drums/bass/Telecaster rhythm section plus vocal trio. It's rough, tough, even austere but, as the title suggests, it's pregnant with the stuff that makes you feel good. It's the gospel truth."

-- Nick Coleman in The Independent (London, UK newspaper) September 11, 2008 (2nd review in same edition).

"Recorded in her hometown of Chicago this past June, Mavis Staples' "Live: Hope at the Hideout" (****, out Nov. 4 on Anti-) is a bare-bones but powerful affair. Backed by guitarist Rick Holmstrom (who is in sensational form), Jeff Turmes on bass, Stephen Hodges on drums and a trio of backup singers, the gospel-soul legend tears through several of the civil rights-oriented songs she originally tackled on last year's studio effort: "We'll Never Turn Back," including "Eyes on the Prize," "Down in Mississippi," "This Little Light" and "We Shall Not Be Moved."

For good measure, she also pays tribute to her father, Roebuck (Pops) Staples, by covering his songs "Why Am I Treated So Bad" and "Freedom Highway." And if that's still not enough for you, she puts her personal stamp on Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and the spiritual "Wade in the Water," then finishes with the Staples Singers hit "I'll Take You There." Mavis Staples turns 70 next year but is still filled with conviction and fire. Simply magnificent."

-- Martin Banydke for the Detroit Free Press

"We'll Never Turn Back, Mavis Staples' album from 2007, was a bold move. Produced by Ry Cooder, it set gospel's legendary Staple Singers' lead singer amid spare backing of bass, drums, Cooder's guitar, and little else (some percussion, piano, and background vocals), for a collection of "freedom songs" associated with the '60's civil rights movement - which Mavis felt had renewed relevancy in today's climate.

Following that artistic triumph, Staples took another bold step by not relying on her slick Chicago-based band on the road, but duplicating the CD's repertoire and reinterpreting hits from the Staples Singers' storied career with the same type of ensemble - the L.A. trio of drummer Stephen Hodges, bassist Jeff Turmes and leader/guitarist Rick Holmstrom. Again, the gamble paid off. They are still Mavis' touring band, and someone was wise enough to record them recently at the intimate Hideout club in Staples' hometown of Chicago. From the opening tremolo-ed chord of "For What It's Worth," Holmstrom summons up the spirit of Roebuck "Pops" Staples, but then gets grittier that was Pops' custom on "Eyes On The Prize." Likewise, Mavis' deep voice is even huskier and more emotional than was her father's soft, reserved delivery.

The songs from the previous CD come off well; if anything, the band had fleshed them out over a year-plus of gigging by the time of this show. But a broader portrait of Staples is offered via standards like "Wade In The Water" - with Holmstrom stretching out and the gospel queen launching into some impromptu preaching, to the delight of the crowd.

Mavis gives the band a lot of free reign, handing the stage over to Holmstrom for much of the extended "Why Am I Treated So Bad" - a study in simplicity and dynamics.

Do NOT miss Staples and Co. if they come to your town. But in the meantime, dig a true American musical treasure on this spirited CD."

-- Dan Forte in Vintage Guitar Magazine January 2009

"Chicago is Mavis Staples' hometown so she is in exceptionally fine spirits on this 2008 live set, her first solo concert recording, at the Windy City's Hideout venue. Backed by a stripped down yet phenomenal three piece band of veterans featuring guitarist Rick Holmstrom, drummer Stephen Hodges and bassist Jeff Turmes along with a trio of backing vocalists, Staples comes to "bring joy, happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations." Mission accomplished on this hour long set that borrows liberally from her 2007 civil rights oriented album We’ll Never Turn Back, but ups the energy and commitment for the live show. Her group burrows into a deep, dark swamp groove led by Holmstrom's shimmering guitar perfect for Staples' husky, gospel voice to pour into. On "This Little Light" she vocally riffs off the repeated lick, bringing intensity to the song only hinted at in its studio version. She digs back into her catalog to revive the traditional "Wade in the Water," here given a slight funk backbeat and brought to shore by Staples' gutsy, churchy reading. She's practically forced into a closing encore of the Staples Singers' signature tune "I'll Take You There," a sing-along for the audience played against skeletal guitar and enough joyous handclaps to raise the club, and now the listener, a little closer to heaven."

-- Hal Horowitz's list of Amazon's Best Blues Releases of 2008

"Last year, Mavis Staples released a revelatory collection of protest songs ("We'll Never Turn Back") that, though such a thing was hardly needed, reaffirmed her vitality in the current music scene. "Hope at the Hideout" is her victory lap, a joyous house party that benefits from a wonderful alignment of the stars: It was recorded in her return to a cozy, sold-out blues house in Staples' Chicago hometown and released on Election Day. At 69, Staples' power-train voice is close to rugged perfection throughout, and she's wonderfully fired up. And while the studio versions of these tracks are driven by a singular purpose, their live cousins shimmer and shake. Nowhere is that clearer than on a lively and soulful "For What It's Worth," a soaring "This Little Light" and the singularly majestic "We Shall Not Be Moved."

—Jeff Vrabel of Billboard Magazine November 22, 2008

"The occasion for recording this live album was Mavis Staples' return visit to Chicago's legendary Hideout in June of 2008, on a Monday night. (It is not necessarily the best evening for club-going or concert-attending audiences.) Accompanied by a basic rock trio and three backing vocalists, Staples dug deep into her repertoire; many of the songs came from We'll Never Turn Back, a collection of songs from civil rights era rock, gospel, and Staple Singers material. Recorded and released by Anti, it is a warts-and-all performance. The sound is pristine, the energy from the stage is kinetic from the second tune forward, and the audience participation is rather sparse until the end, but it's obvious they get it. The set commences with Stephen Stills' "For What It's Worth." To be honest, it's not the best version Staples has ever delivered, but it's adequate and gives the crowd something to hold on to. She digs a little deeper on "Eyes on the Prize," and is full bore by the album's third cut, "Down in Mississippi." Staples is in fine voice, but to be fair it is not the voice of her younger years. She is 69 years old, and some of the high notes are no longer available to her, but what she lacks in her legendary range she more than makes up for in both grit and passion. Her transposition to lower keys suits her well and she uses it to maximum effect -- check out her growling version of "Wade in the Water," with a call and response from her backing vocalists. Rick Holmstrom's Telecaster guitar lines are drenched in warm bluesed-out reverb throughout the set, but here they help put the song over the top.

In fact, the trio here -- completed by bassist Jeff Turmes on bass and Stephen Hodges on drums -- feels like some lost incarnation of Creedence Clearwater Revival at their most spooky and meandering. The groove is constant and hypnotic, and Staples draws from them, putting the song across better than she has on any album. If this music were played in churches this way, they'd all be full. Other performances are starker, relying as much on Holmstrom's guitar as they do on Staples' voice, such as "Waiting for My Child" and a smoldering, funky version of "This Little Light of Mine," which is all rhythm. The reading of her father Pop Staples' "Why Am I Treated So Bad" is fully supported by the handclapping crowd and her backing chorus, and its subterranean blues, though slow and purposeful, is full of determination. "Freedom Highway" is the most uptempo thing here, walking a line between gritty soul and roots rock. Staples offers a long rambling intro to "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," but it's worth the wait. She explains that it's the first song her father ever taught her how to sing; the arrangement sticks close to his, but the voice is all Mavis, and she and the chorus dig into it like they were trying to defeat death itself. Ultimately, though this set has a few rough spots -- you had to be there to get the full power and rough-hewn majesty of it all -- it's a better offering than listeners had any right to expect, and Mavis Staples more than keeps up her end of the bargain. It is at once a celebratory and inspiring recording."

-- All Music.com

"This year's follow up to last year's outstanding, civil rights-themed, Ry Cooder-helmed We'll Never Turn Back puts Mavis Staples, The last Gospel Legend, into the tiny confines of Chicago's premier small venue. She relishes the opportunity, scorching the tightly packed audience with some authentic holy-rolling gospel fervour. Kicking off with a stomping For What It's Worth, her sparse and funky three piece band proceed to draw mainly fro Never Turn back's blues-inspired grooves. Exceptions include Waiting For My Child in which, accompanied just by solo guitar, Staples delivers a barely disguised plea for the return of US soldiers from foreign lands. Somehow, the song seems to swell from the back of the club, under the sheer force of her musical personality."

-- Word Magazine (UK) November 12, 2008

And finally, here's a ridiculous review...