For many, the name Mavis Staples conjures images from The Last Waltz, the film that documents The Bands final concert. The beautiful footage of The Staples Singers performing “The Weight” with The Band served as my introduction to Staples and I have long since been a fan. More than thirty years and countless albums have passed since that performance, but with her latest solo release, You Are Not Alone, the 71-year old Staples reminds us that her voice is still one to be reckoned with.
Released earlier in the fall and produced by Wilcos Jeff Tweedy, You Are Not Alone presents 13 songs. Although the albums lyrical content is certainly of the gospel tradition, the arrangements effectively bridge a variety of genres. Tweedys influence is strong on the acoustic guitar filled title track and “In Christ There Is No East or West,” which are both suggestive of Wilco circa Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. While “Creep Along Moses” and “Wrote A Song For Everyone” both have a decidedly blues feel.
The albums overall appeal and effectiveness, however, are derived from Staples voice, the quality of which appears to have strengthened with age. Throughout the album, she sings with a depth, power, and warmth that seem increasingly rare in music today. It is these qualities that first captured my attention many years ago, and that make this album a perfect soundtrack as the days continue to get colder and the nights longer.
Video: Mavis Staples singing “You Are Not Alone” with Jeff Tweedy on guitar.