Live: Hope At The Hideout

Mavis Staples

Anti-, 2008

REVIEW BY: Mark Millan


I have to say, I was spoiled rotten last year.  I can’t remember another year in recent times that offered me so much new music of such incredible quality.  Of all the new music on offer this year, it has very much been a year for the veterans.  Neil Diamond floored me with his deeply personal Home Before Dark.  Tom Petty reformed Mudcrutch.  Emmylou Harris turned in one of her best ever efforts.  Queen and Paul Rodgers rocked the cosmos and Tina Turner dusted off her stilettos to once again show the “divas” of today just exactly how it should be done.  Another one of my very favorite singers released an all-too rare new album this year as well. 

Mavis Staples has long been a favorite of mine, and although I’m in no way religious, her voice speaks to my heart and soothes my soul in a way that no one else’s can.  Best remembered as part of her family’s band The Staple Singers, Mavis remains a popular solo act who regularly tours and unfortunately only very occasionally records.  This album was recorded to mark her return to the legendary club the Hideout in her hometown of Chicago for a Monday night gig in June of last year. 

Live: Hope At The Hideout finds Mavis backed by a super tight trio consisting of drums, bass and guitar and accompanied by three backing vocalists.  Kicking the night off with a slow-burning reading of Stephen Still’s “For What It’s Worth,” Mavis hits pay dirt instantly.  Her version is both bluesy and nostalgic (thanks to plenty of reverb from guitarist Rick Holmstrom). nbtc__dv_250

From here on, Mavis borrows heavily from her 2007 album We’ll Never Turn Back.  Essentially a concept album about the American Civil Rights movement of the ‘50s and ‘60s, the songs here are given faithful versions and seem to pack more of a punch in the context of a live performance.  None fare better than “Eyes On The Prize,” which is both heartfelt and defiant. 

Mavis’ voice these days may lack the soaring high notes of yesteryear, but she chooses her songs carefully and has re-arranged some older ones to showcase her mature 69-year-old pipes to awesome effect.  Her low-down growling version of “Wade In The Water” is evidence that Mavis can dig as deep as anyone else out there when it comes to singing the blues.  “Down In Mississippi” shows up early and sends the intimate crowd into raptures. 

Mavis’ roots in gospel music are represented with two astonishing versions of traditional classics of that genre.  “Waiting For My Child” is almost an a cappella affair, with Mavis’ pleading vocals getting the message across with ease.  “This Little Light” is given the full band treatment with her backing singers delivering the goods while she adlibs her way through the second half of the song.

The centerpiece of the show here are two songs from Staples’ days with The Staple Singers.  These tracks, both written by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples, probably showcase Staples’ gift better than anything else in this set.  “Why Am I Treated So Bad” is given an eight-minute workout, which gives the band their chance to loosen up as evidenced by Holmstrom’s evil solo.  “Freedom Highway” is an up-tempo ditty that crosses many lines, including soul, rock and even country. 

“We Shall Not Be Moved” and “On My Way” are taken from We’ll Never Turn Back, and during the former’s middle section Staples offers a personal account of what life was really like fighting for freedom in the South.  Staple’s offers a three-minute intro into the first song that “Pops” Staples taught his kids to sing, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”  It turns out to be a glorious fusion of Southern gospel and funky soul, which again proves Staples to be in a class of her own.

Closing the gig with “I’ll Take You There,” Mavis leads her band and the crowd through a call and response version that would leave any crowd and us listeners wanting more.  Overall, this is an exceptional account of a truly remarkable singer and her super funky band.  In fact, the spooky grooves put down here by the band are authentic, timeless and highly infectious.  I’ve been playing this now for six months and I still can’t get enough.  I found hope at the hideout alright; I hope you do, too.

Rating: A-

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© 2009 Mark Millan and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Anti-, and is used for informational purposes only.