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Music Review: 'Livin' On A High Note,' Mavis Staples
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Music Review: 'Livin' On A High Note,' Mavis Staples

Music Reviews

Music Review: 'Livin' On A High Note,' Mavis Staples

Music Review: 'Livin' On A High Note,' Mavis Staples
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Music reviewer Tom Moon says the latest from gospel-soul icon Mavis Staples is the most stirring of her recent releases. He reviews Livin' on a High Note.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Here's a music collaboration you might not expect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESUS LAY DOWN BESIDE ME")

MAVIS STAPLES: (Singing) Jesus, lay down beside me. Lay down and rest your troubled mind.

SIEGEL: That's gospel-soul pioneer Mavis Staples singing "Jesus Lay Down Beside Me." Rocker Nick Cave wrote this song for Staples' new album, "Livin' On A High Note." The record also features songs written for her by other artists, including Tune-Yards, Aloe Blacc, Neko Case and Ben Harper. Reviewer Tom Moon says the album recalls the intensity of Staples' 1960s heyday with The Staple Singers.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOM MOON, BYLINE: Mavis Staples has been doing pretty much the same thing for over five decades - turning Sunday school platitudes like "Respect Yourself" into urgent-sounding crusades.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RESPECT YOURSELF")

THE STAPLE SINGERS: (Singing) Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. They say, my word, you might get me fired. What a terrifying time to raise our voices.

MOON: When the 76-year-old-icon began working on this album, she put the word out. She wanted upbeat, affirmative songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MOON: The songwriters, many associated with indie rock, responded by updating The Staple Singers' sound from the '60s and early '70s. The recipe - uplifting messages tucked inside addictive pop hooks over steady, rolling grooves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE AND TRUST")

STAPLES: (Singing) Lusting a villain, but stealing from a thief. Storm after storm leave you shaking like a leaf. They say broken hearts make the world go around, creating headaches or heartaches, only get you down. Give it some time. Don't try to rush when you're trying to find yourself some love and trust.

MOON: Just about every song offers some inspirational thought - cultivating inner strength, supporting friends, standing up for what's right. Among the most powerful tracks is "MLK Song" from producer M. Ward, which is built around phrases from Dr. Martin Luther King's final sermon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MLK SONG")

STAPLES: (Singing) And in the march for peace, tell them I played the drum when I have to meet to my day. In the crawl for justice, I helped somebody run. In the walk for the hungry, I fed someone. And in the march for peace, tell them I played the drum when I have to meet my day.

MOON: Mavis Staples has made several really strong records in recent years. One even won her a Grammy this month. But this album stands apart for the songs themselves, which bring a refreshing lightness to message music and also for the way she sings them, with that quiet yet fierce gospel spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE US BACK")

STAPLES: (Singing) Sometimes life can get you in a hurry, but I'm just going to take it slow now. That don't mean I ain't been working, y'all.

SIEGEL: The latest from Mavis Staples is called "Livin' On A High Note." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE US BACK")

STAPLES: (Singing) I'm taking some time to see the people who keep me going. Sometimes hope can lead you down a bad line. Now, I'm not saying that I'm not judging now. I'm just going to tell you what to tell them now. I got friends, and I got - I got family. I got help from all the people who love me. I got friends, and I got - I got family. I got help from all the people who love me.

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