Along with her fellow family members in the Staples Singers, Mavis Staples provided a soundtrack for the American civil rights movement, something she refers to simply as “The Struggle”. So it’s fitting that Staples would release the stunning live collection “Hope At The Hideout” on November 4, the day the United States elected its first African-American President.
Working in front of an intimate crowd in her hometown of Chicago, the 69-year old singer brings ferocious energy to protest songs and spiritual standards.
Much of the material is drawn from the 2007’s Ry Cooder-produced “We’ll Never Turn Back,” but it’s more raw and immediate in this setting, with the audience behaving less like patrons in a club than parishioners in pews.
She leads off with a growling rendition of Stephen Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” and never lets up from there.
Highlights include J.B. Lenoir’s swampy “Down In Mississippi,” given a powerful autobiographical touch with Staples’ story of colored-only water fountains. On “Wade In The Water” guitarist Rick Holmstrom channels John Fogerty while Mavis leads the group, which includes her sister Yvonne, in a rousing call-and-response.
There’s a sense of living history throughout, but never more so than three songs at the record’s center, offered in sequence. She brings the same fierce determination to “Why Am I Treated So Bad” that Pops Staples did when he wrote it in response to a Martin Luther King sermon. “Freedom Highway” brims with hope and optimism; on “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Staples recounts a confrontation at a southern lunch counter a mere 45 years ago.
After performing a rousing encore of “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” Staples isn’t ready to leave the stage, so she launches into an equally spirited “On My Way”. The audience’s energy level acts like an extra instrument, as shouts and whoops of joy punctuate her (as one writer so vividly put it) “honey and grits” voice . Unwilling to let the night end, she finishes with “I’ll Take You There,” one of her biggest Staples Singers hits.
“I’ve had such a good time, “ she finally thanks the crowd. “I’m home – so I guess I’ll come back tomorrow night.” You’ll probably do the same, and let this inspiring live album go immediately for a second spin.