More than enough ink has been spilled throughout the lengthy and influential careers of The Staple Singers and Mavis Staples, and as a result it would make it unnecessary to delve deeply into her biography — or to repeat what countless others have written and said about her. What I will add is that over the past couple of years the legendary soul vocalist has been remarkably prolific — last year saw the release of the critically acclaimed Good Fortune EP, which was produced by renowned soul artist Son Little. And perhaps much more momentous, the posthumous release of Pops Staples‘ last recorded effort Don’t Lose This, an effort that required the assistance of Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy, who has been a frequent collaborator over the past few days, as well as a number of guest musicians to complete the album as her father intended.
February 19 marks the release of Mavis Staples’ latest album Livin’ On A High Note and the album will reportedly reference and draw from her 60+ year musical career influencing and defining soul, folk, pop, R&B, blues rock and even hip-hop. But the most interesting thing about the new album is that Mavis recruited a number of diverse and critically applauded contemporary artists to write songs on the album including Neko Case, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Nick Cave, Ben Harper, tUnE yArDs, Aloe Blacc, Benjamin Booker, The Head and the Heart and M. Ward — with Ward also taking up production duties. As the legendary soul singer explained in press notes “I’ve been singing my freedom songs and I wanted to stretch out and sing some songs that were new. I told the writers I was looking for some joyful songs. I want to leave something to lift people up; I’m so busy making people cry, not from sadness, but I’m always telling a part of history that brought us down and I’m trying to bring us back up. These songwriters gave me a challenge. They gave me that feeling of, ‘Hey, I can hang! I can still do this!’ There’s a variety, and it makes me feel refreshed and brand new. Just like Benjamin Booker wrote on the opening track, ‘I got friends and I got love around me, I got people, the people who love me.’ I’m living on a high note, I’m above the clouds. I’m just so grateful. I must be the happiest old girl in the world. Yes, indeed.”
The album’s latest single “High Note” discusses something that is easier said than done for most us — and it’s certainly the case for me: taking the higher road despite how hurt, betrayed and disgusted you might be over a particular person or a particular situation, and doing so with grace and dignity. At the same time, the song’s narrator points out that taking the higher road requires wisdom and experience — sometimes embittering and hurtful ones to know when and how to do so. Sonically, the song pairs a loose and bluesy guitar line with Mavis’ legendary vocals in a song that radiates a comforting and soulful warmth that says “hey, I’ve been there, too.”