Published Jun 04, 2019Entering her eighth decade as a music icon, Mavis Staples sounds inspired by the songs that her producer Ben Harper composed for this collaboration, exhibiting a determination to put their politically charged motifs across as personally as she can.
The tone is set with the gritty blues of "Change," as a distorted guitar progression and gentle rhythmic stomp allows Staples to sing about the need for some kind of change around here. The impassioned song builds and falls away, as if to match the emotive tension that propels seismic socio-political shifts to occur, as well as the pensive calm that often follows their hard-fought success.
Such a dynamic recurs on songs like "Brothers and Sisters," which also speaks of change, and "Stronger," which blend sadness, hope and resolve, and are rooted in spiritual strength. Though Staples soars as the primary singer, her backup vocalists punctuate ideas, emphatically selling choruses and wading in the rich music that Harper and Staples' long-standing band conjure.
Among the most tender moments here occurs between Staples and Harper, who duet on the title track, which is about as "Stand By Me" in its sentiment as you can get. It's also striking because, close your eyes and mind to the fact that it's Harper, and you'd swear Mavis is singing with her late dad, Pops, once again.
A little more understated than her recent collaborations with Jeff Tweedy, who similarly wrote songs and produced them for Staples, We Get By is still a gem and Mavis Staples and Ben Harper clearly hit upon something special in working together. (Anti)