Artist: Mavis Staples
Album: I’ll Take You There – An All-Star Concert Celebration
Release Date: 06.02.2017
This is one large extravaganza with a few peak moments, mostly solid, rather predictable performances, and a few misses too. It takes on more meaning now that Gregg Allman, a key participant, has passed. That’s to be expected when a Who’s Who of various musical genres get together in a tribute format. This celebrates the music of Mavis Staples, and by extension The Staples Singers across two discs and a DVD taken from a November 19, 2014 concert held in Mavis’ home town, Chicago. The occasion marked Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Mavis’ 75th birthday. Music Director Don Was led a ten- piece band with three McCrary Sisters doing background vocals. Mavis’ own five-piece ensemble played on some tracks as well. Watching the video, it’s fair to conclude that the McCrarys, in the mode of The Staples Singers, were the stars of this show. Mavis’ own five-piece ensemble, featuring vastly underrated Rick Holstrom on guitar (he played in both bands), is on some tracks as well.
In recent years Staples has become a darling of the Americana community through her work with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who helmed two of her albums (and Ry Cooder’s brilliant We’ll Never Turn Back). So, while the Americana community is represented by Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin, Ryan Bingham, and Emmylou Harris among others, the blues and soul genres have icons here as well. Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, Gregg Allman, Otis Clay (DVD only), Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, and Michael McDonald all perform. Even jam bands are represented by Widespread Panic and Grace Potter. Jeff and Spencer Tweedy are also in the cast.
Maybe because I’m specifically looking for that special Staples Singers feel, some of the performances involving Mavis come across the strongest, especially “Turn Me Around” with Bonnie Raitt and “Slippery People,” performed with Mavis by Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. That tune was written by David Byrne of The Talking Heads with The Staples Singers in mind. Other highlights include Keb’ Mo’ on “Heavy Makes You Happy,” “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus) by Buddy Miller and—surprisingly, given his Irish background—Glen Hansard’s take on “People Get Ready.” Grace Potter’s “Grandma’s Hands” and Ryan Bingham’s “If You’re Ready (Come With Me)’ failed to catch fire and Eric Church’s take on “Eyes on the Prize” was messy and lacked the focus that Mavis brought to that song on her excellent Live at the Hideout albums, with Ry Cooder . Nonetheless, those were more than offset by the many other fine performances that combined to throw Mavis one heck of a birthday party.