Mavis Staples hasn’t lost a bit of urgency on new album, even at 80

All of the songs on Chicago legend’s ‘We Get By’ are by Ben Harper. Their collaboration is fruitful and moving.

SHARE Mavis Staples hasn’t lost a bit of urgency on new album, even at 80
Mavis Staples performing May 22 in Los Angeles.

Mavis Staples performing May 22 in Los Angeles.

AP

Time certainly hasn’t dampened the urgency in Mavis Staples’ voice.

Now 80, the Grammy Award-winning legend and social activist from Chicago has one clear enemy on her new album: the status quo.

She sings the word “change” 20 times. The terrific “We Get By” (Anti-Records) opens with the song “Change.” And it ends 10 tracks later with “One More Change to Make.” And along the way, she urges, “Can’t stay the same,” ”Something’s got to give” and “Grab hold of the days.”

All of the songs on this, her 12th studio album, were written by Ben Harper, and their union proves fruitful and moving. Harper has given Staples some songs that show off her vulnerable side and others that make you move, with some funk and folk and soul and blues, the guitars often shimmering. He joins in singing the dynamic, soulful title track.

The Staples-Harper collaboration dates to when he wrote the terrific “Love and Trust” for her 2016 album “Livin’ On a High Note.”

Staples, who plays the Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park on July 19, thanks him for all his new work in the liner notes: “I love you, Baby Bruh.”

Harper, who has three Grammys, has written and produced an unrushed and quietly brooding album for Staples that puts her expressive voice at the center, with the instruments turned down. Two songs — “Never Needed Anyone” and “Heavy On My Mind” — sound like the band was just one room down the hall.

In between calls for change, Staples sings about love.

On “Chance on Me,” she is needy: “I don’t need a symphony / I just need one violin.”

On the tender, bluesy “Hard to Leave,” she’s longing: “Softly reaching over / For your touch upon my sleeve.”

Then, there’s the standout “Stronger,” an irresistible, rocking track on which Staples’ voice stretches and soars, and the guitar keeps up with her. “Don’t need a house on the hill / Don’t need my face on a dollar bill,” she sings.

Staples might not need her face on our money, but maybe that’s the least we can do to thank her.

The Latest
Counsell left the Brewers as the all-time winningest manager in club history. In Milwaukee, his legacy comes down to culture, performance — and his admiration for his home and state.
Among the dead are 5-year-old Reign Ware, who was fatally shot in the abdomen while sitting in a parked car in the 200 block of South Campbell Avenue about 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning, police said.
The Cubs squandered lefty Justin Steele’s best start of the season.
Reign Ware was leaving a family party in the 200 block of South Campbell Avenue about 3:30 a.m. Sunday when a Jeep Cherokee pulled up and shots were fired. Reign was killed. A 24-year-old man was wounded.
“Hardly home but always repping #SkyTown #DeWayneWade,” he captioned the series of photos on Instagram.