Tag: Ben Harper

New Audio: The Legendary Mavis Staples Teams Up with Jeff Tweedy on a Much-Needed Anthemic Bit of Uplift

Throughout the course of this site’s almost ten year history, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the legendary Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. Going into a deep dive into her career as a member of the Staple Singers and and a solo artist will be a bit gratuitous — but throughout her career, she has received commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Stapes has received eight Grammy Awards nominations with the Staple Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She also received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with longtime friend Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s ”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.”

She also has been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. Staples was also inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017.

The legendary Chicago-born singer, actress and civil rights activist turned 80 last year and with her achievements, it would be understandable if she had begun to slow down; however, over the past handful of years, Staples has been remarkably busy, releasing three critically applauded albums with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy and last year’s Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By.

Fittingly, Staples’ latest single is the hopeful and upbeat Jeff Tweedy-produced, “All In It Together,” which also features Tweedy contributing backing vocals and guitar. Centered around a shuffling, Chicago blues-like arrangement of twinkling keys, strummed guitar, a rousing hook and Staples’ imitable vocals, the track speaks directly to our current sociopolitical moment, while gently reminding the listener that at the end of the day, we’re all in this together. And that if we don’t get together at this most important moment in our collective history, then we’re all doomed. 

“The song speaks to what we’re going through now – everyone is in this together, whether you like it or not,” the legendary vocalist explains in press notes. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race or sex you are, where you live…it can still touch you. It’s hit so many people in our country and around the world in such a horrible way and I just hope this song can bring a little light to the darkness. We will get through this but we’re going to have to do it together. If this song is able to bring any happiness or relief to anyone out there in even the smallest way, I wanted to make sure that I helped to do that.”

The song is available on all streaming services and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the song will be donated to My Block, My Hood, My City, a Chicago-based organization that ensures seniors will have access to the essentials needed to fight COVID-19. 

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “We Get By” on “CBS This Morning Saturday Sessions”

Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the legendary, Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and throughout a music career that has spanned over eight decades, several different genres and styles as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has had achieved commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Staples has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards with the Staples Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The legendary, Chicago-born vocalist has also been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. And let’s not forget that Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Staples turns 80 next month — July 10, 2019 — and while many artists at her age and with her achievements would have understandably begun to slow down, the legendary vocalist has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing three, critically applauded albums in her late 70s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, the Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By was released by her longtime label home Anti- Records a few weeks ago, and as the legendary vocalist says in press notes, “When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now. But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”

“I come from a family of Mavis fans,” the multi-Grammy nominated and multi-Grammy winning Ben Harper explains in press notes, “so her music has been woven into the fabric of my life from the very start. When I got the call for this gig, it felt like my entire career, everything I’d ever written, had been pre-production for this.” 

The imitable Mavis Staples was recently on CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions where she and her backing band performed the uplifting album title track”We Get By.” Naturally, the track is what Staples has long specialized in: heartfelt, uplifting spirituals centered around lived-in experience — particularly, finding some way to survive in a difficult and uneasy world with your dignity, sanity and spiritual life intact. 

Since their formation back in the 2007, the Atlanta, GA-based quartet The Pinx, currently comprised of Adam McIntyre (vocals, rhythm guitar), Chance McColl (lead guitar), Jonathan Lee (bass) and Dwayne Jones (drums), have developed a reputation across the Southeast for a relentless touring schedule that had the band opening for the likes of Ben Harper and Relentless7 among others, for songs that have appeared during highlights broadcast on ESPN and Fox Sports, and for a sound that draws heavily from The MC5, Cheap Trick, Led Zeppelin, Motorhead and others — or in other words 70s-leaning arena friendly power chord rock.

After a brief hiatus that saw McIntyre’s stint with fellow Atlanta-based band StoneRider during their European tour and a massive lineup change, the band reformed and with a change of songwriting approach and sonic direction. As McIntyre says of the material he wrote that comprised the band’s forthcoming new album, Freedom: “A lot of the stuff I learned about songwriting during my decade in Nashville came back. Not the formulaic bro-country aspect, but folks like Todd Snider and Dan Baird. Smart, funny guys who write songs that reflect themselves well. I wanted some of that to come through. It all has to mix with the rock & roll and the blues and soul and everything, and I put together a band tailor-made to do just that.” McIntyre also adds ““These songs are all true stories. I tried to write concise, simple little rock and roll songs. This is the set I want to play live.”

Freedom‘s latest single “Baby Won’t Ya” is an Southern double fried, whiskey soaked, The Black Crowes-indebted cover of The MC5 that retains the song’s anthemic, power chord-heavy swagger but with a studio sheen that doesn’t clean up the original’s sleazy dive bar feel.

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.”