Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mavis Staples

  • Mavis [Stax, 1969] B+
  • Time Waits for No One [Paisley Park, 1989] B
  • We'll Never Turn Back [Anti-, 2007] A-
  • One True Vine [Anti-, 2013] **
  • Livin' on a High Note [Anti-, 2016] ***
  • If All I Was Was Black [Anti-, 2017] **

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Mavis [Stax, 1969]
In the absence of Janis and Aretha, Mavis may end up the female singer of the year; unique range and power with a touch too much showbiz. B+

Time Waits for No One [Paisley Park, 1989]
This dream meeting between the criminally underexploited black singer and the black-pop capo doesn't flop altogether--both principals can generate a certain minimum interest sleepwalking. The two songs composed by old Stax hands are slightly embarrassing, but they sound like Mavis, who's made meaningful schlock her lifework. The six by Prince sound like a top-of-the-line disco producer who can't say no to a great voice or a deep ballad. B

We'll Never Turn Back [Anti-, 2007]
One of the rare entertainers to actively support the civil rights movement, gospel-pop-soul matron Mavis Staples honors the music of that movement with these re-created freedom songs. Of documentary value throughout, they're most moving when Staples embellishes them with personal memories, such as her one-young-woman integration of a washateria in Forrest, Mississippi. On her own new "With My Own Eyes," the updated "99 1/2," and producer Ry Cooder's "I'll Be Rested," she doesn't merely revive rousing old songs--she brings their moral passion into the present. As usual, Cooder's refab authenticity can get annoying--he distresses the arrangements with anachronistic guitar stabs like he's antiquing a bureau. But because African-American rhythms come easier to him than Cuban clave, his timing is spot on. More proof that God loves this project: He or She even grants Ry's klutzy son Joachim some tasty loops. A-

One True Vine [Anti-, 2013]
Tweedy-Staples Secular Gospel Revival Finalists: George Clinton and . . . the Staple Singers ("Can You Get to That," "I Like the Things About Me") **

Livin' on a High Note [Anti-, 2016]
All-star songwriting crew works changes on the political truths and homilies this rights standard-bearer has been nailing for half a century ("MLK Song," "History, Now," "Action") ***

If All I Was Was Black [Anti-, 2017]
Flummoxed by the exacting distinction between catchy and memorable, she does her gospel-pop best with 10 Jeff Tweedy protest songs so subtly crafted they barely leave a mark ("Who Told You That," "If All I Was Was Black," "Try Harder") **