First Listen – Mavis Staples has found some “Good Fortune”

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    While soul veterans like Bettye LaVette, Al Green, and Booker T have been garnering most of the legacy performers’ “comeback” press in recent years for surprising third acts, Mavis Staples has been quietly knocking them down the aisles for years and still picking up Grammys, as she did in 2010 for the Jeff Tweedy produced You Are Not Alone, to boot. With a new four-song EP, Your Good Fortune (click here for a full album stream) one of the standout voices of the iconic Staples Singers demonstrates that she not only still has it on the project’s two originals, but she also stunningly remakes two Staples Singers classics, breathing new life into her enviable back catalog. The Pops Staples’ penned Civil Rights-era standard “Wish I Had Answered” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” are given hip hop and electrosoul overlays to modernize them, but newcomer producer Son Little smartly keeps the original melodies and arrangements largely intact.

    With a point to prove, Little also plays most of the instruments on every track and wrote both of the originals on Your Good Fortune in the same vein as Mavis Staples and the Staples Singers' rootsy soul style. The two tunes, the fiery “Fight” and the “Your Good Fortune,” both feel mighty timely in lyric and energy. A percussive bit of country soul meets protest song, “Fight” is the most aggressively righteous of the bunch filled with strongly progressive lyrics about everything from greedy CEOs to hypocritical Christians. Mavis has rarely sounded more in her element taking down “the man” in all his many guises. Meanwhile, the blues dirge of “Your Good Fortune” could have been the opening theme song for “The Wire” in its inquisitive call and response pathos of choral pain. Together, they remind listeners that some sage voices are timeless and that the meeting of the right songs with the right voice is still an act of kismet that no amount of technology and youthful appeal can replace.

    By L. Michael Gipson