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on 23 March 2007
As musical activists in the 1960s, The Staple Singers were powerful voices for equality and change. Working with Dr. Martin Luther King and singing in support of the Civil Right movement, they drew on their spirituality and the strength of the church to achieve social justice.

Mavis Staples' new album, We'll Never Turn Back, combines raw, emotional, contemporized versions of some of the freedom songs, along with other traditional songs, that provided the soundtrack to the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and original material written by Staples and producer Ry Cooder. Having helped to define what is righteous and soulful in A merican music, this is Staples' most electrifyingly personal and polemical album of her career.

Ry Cooder and his son, Joaquin, drummer Jim Keltner, bassist Mike Elizando, many of the original Freedom Singers and South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo create soundscapes for Mavis' deep-in-the-well, heartfelt vocals to flourish. Mavis ad-libs spoken and sung commentary on several songs, connecting the lyrics to her own life, her family and the issues of the day.

Traditional numbers like This Little Light and 99 ½ are given a new lease of life by Staples' incredible voice and Ry Cooder's powerful arrangements, while the cover of Southern bluesman J.B. Lenoir's Down In Mississippi is an early stand out moment. The new material, however, more than matches up to the feeling of the traditional songs; the title track - co-written by Staples and Cooder - and the Cooder-penned I'll Be Rested both recall the pounding emotion of 1960s gospel music.

Not only a deeply personal account of Mavis' life from her childhood days in Mississippi, through the Civil Rights era and up to her current indignation over the continuing treatment of some Americans as second class citizens, We'll Never Turn Back is a wonderful homage to a period in which everyday citizens exhibited incredible bravery and wrought incredible changes to society, retrieving some of the most treasured voices in contemporary music and finding that behind it lies an inspirational force.
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on 24 April 2007
Accept no substitute.... Mavis & Ry together? Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! If we lived in Utopia, then this is what radio stations would A-list programme as "R'n'B", instead of the fidgety processed pap for shopgirls that they peddle. Yeah, I know that junk sells, but this is real people playing real instruments with a rare commodity in music today: humanity, soul... call it what you will. Essential for anyone who thinks they know music. Here endeth the lesson!
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on 30 May 2007
What Mavis has chosen to do in this album is to reinterpret a number of classic anthems from the Civil Rights movement as well as including several compositions of her own, all of which are impeccably rendered by an extraordinary voice which may have lost some of its youthful shine but has gained a weary wisdom and lost none of its fierce commitment to tell it like it is, without frills but plenty of class.

Whether or not you share Staples' beliefs or consider yourself a long time fan of the Staples Singers, this is a phenomenal set of songs. If Mavis' voice wasn't enough the album is permeated by the magic of Ry Cooder's production who could not have been a better choice to give these songs, both, their gravitas and their groove. His guitar work in "Down In Mississippi" alone can justify buying this record. This is Cooder at his best, laying a sound as dense and ominous as a Louisiana swamp or as angelic as Gospel longings, as the songs require.

Another musician worthy of note is drummer Jim Keltner, Ry's compadre for so many years, who inhabit these songs with a powerful beat that will resonate in your chest even after the album's over. Along with his work in aforementioned "Down In Mississippi"--my pick from this album for one of the best songs of 07--he's exceptional in "Eyes On The Prize" or the slow shuffle of "In The Mississippi River."

All in all, this is not only a great album but a necessary one. What these songs may reawaken or introduce you to are words that have not lost their significance nor their relevance. Listen to Mavis sing those tracks already spoken for or "I'll Be Rested," "We'll Never Turn Back" or "On My Way." She'll show how much she knows about moving your soul and your body.
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on 18 November 2011
Mavis Staples-what a brilliant name.
And since the CD Age and Internet the profile of the Staples Singers is higher than ever.
I'm not sure whether any of the VEE Jay LPs gained U K release but in 1964 the first inkling of the name was when the Stones recorded The Last Time-a song which was more or less a reconstruction of the Staples' This may be the last time.Information which came via a Readers letter in a music paper which seemed to be attacking the Stones for passing off a black song as their own work
This was the same year Sam Cooke wrote and recorded the song A Change Is Gonna Come.
5 years later that change was in evidence as Martin Luther King had been assassinated and Black Power was taking root eventually culminating in the first Black President.
Black & White had already taken hold by then-there's no racial prejudice in the music business as the Staple Singers were always reliant on whites to move their music into the mainstream simply because white owned labels and artists had put them there thus Vee Jay and Stax and artists like Bob Dylan and Ry Cooder.
The latter was the reason for this collection which is very easy on the ear in spite of its heavy subject matter
Watch enough films and documentaries about the Slave Trade for example and you understand just what this album is about
Many songs are adapted from traditional sources including one called Ninety Nine & A Half which just may be the source for the better known Wilson Pickett one called Ninety Nine & A Half Won't Do-the title of which is picked up in the additional brief notes by Mavis herself
Anyone who collects roots music needs this CD
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I'd been looking forward to this CD being released for months and now I've got to say I'm disappointed, probably because I was expecting more from a Ry Cooder production that also features him playing guitar. It's not that this is a bad CD, it is just rather, er, dull.

The CD starts with J.B.Lenoir's 'Down in Mississippi' and finishes with 'Jesus on the mainline', two songs which Ry has recorded before but the versions here are very average. The other songs on the CD are fairly well known gospel songs that became associated with the fight for civil rights in the 60s but curiously don't seem to evoke emotion or spiritual uplift. We have to wait until Mavis's own song 'My own eyes' (for me easily the best song on the CD) and the title track to find real emotion and personal involvement.

Ry does play some nice slide guitar on the CD but remains very much in the background. I guess he made this CD around the same time as 'My name is Buddy' and some of arrangements are similar - although thankfully there are no mentions of cheese. I also felt that Ladysmith Black Mambazo were not used to their best advantage.

Overall this CD contains nothing with the power of the Staple Singers songs like 'Long walk to DC' and the fabulous 'When will we be paid for the work we've done', which still sends shivers down my spine.
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on 27 November 2008
I don't think you get the most out of this album by running straight through it, Yes Mavis is inspirational, and Ry Cooder the perfect foil, but because the theme stays the same ( obviously ) I can understand why one reviewer found the album dull . It's better to listen to just one or two tracks at a time , and then you can appreciate the full moral force of the lyrics, and the arrangement, without being distracted by the desire to find the whole album 'entertaining'.
There are some gems here, and I think they are the sort that grow on you, if you listen to a track a few times and really get to know it.
Noone has mentioned '99 and 1/2' which has an infectious rhythm and guitar lick , overlaid with Mavis at her enthusiastic best. Indeed Mavis is perfect for these songs, with her combination of harshness, restraint, but determination , as she exorts others to follow the cause.Uplifting.
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on 31 August 2013
I absolutely loved this album and will definite be purchasing more of this ladies music, and at the price I paid it's excellent value for money.
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on 25 December 2009
This album manages to sound very modern and yet traditional old time delta and southern soulat the same time. It is wonderful to hear songs filled with hope in these cynical times. I personally found it inspiring and was close to tears of joy and sadness many times. Mavis's singing is wonderfully human and the playing is exemplary. A classic album in every sense. It reminds us that positive change requires collective guts and organisation and that liberty and civil rights are never handed down from above. The people in their long struggle for freedom need songs to uplift us and keep our eyes on the prize. This album contains some old ones and some new ones. Superb
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on 20 May 2009
One of the all time great voices with one of the all time great guitarists and even one of the all time great drummers usually would be a recipe for disappointment. Not this time.
Mavis Staples has The voice of Gospel and this album is her finest since the end of The Staples Singers. The standout track is 'My own eyes' but there are plenty more great moments. The guitar of Ry Cooder and the drumming of Jim Keltner is as superb as its ever been. Ry's production is entirely in keeping with the mood of the whole record. I have not stopped playing it since I bought it. THIS IS THE SOUL OF GOSPEL.
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on 21 February 2015
Terrific album, still a great singer/songwriter, production by Ry Cooder very special
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