Mavis Staples, her force remains steady

Mavis Staples performs following the NY Premiere of HBO’s Documentary film “MAVIS!” at Florence Gould Hall on February 24, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano)

“We come this evening to bring you joy, happiness, inspiration and some positive vibrations,” said Mavis Staples who by all intents and purposes led her band through a show that ultimately did just that.

Mavis is the only surviving member of the legendary Chicago based Staples Singers. Roebuck (aka “Pops” Staples) who played guitar, sang and wrote many of their songs was leader and founder of the group. Along with his three daughters, Cleotha, Yvonne and Mavis, the quartet reigned as one of the more prominent groups with a professional career that lasted nearly 50 years–from the late 40’s through the early 90’s.

Mavis’ single-set performance Friday, Oct. 12 at the Jefferson Center, covered several of the soul, gospel and R&B hits that catapulted the group to stardom and has continued to fuel her solo career that launched in the late 60’s.

Staples’ career involves a host of TV appearances, films and a slew of awards far to numerous to mention.

Mavis Staples on stage at the Jefferson Center.

Performing such signature songs as their 70’s hits “Respect Yourself” and “Let’s Do it Again” (‘76) showed her voice, although raspy and powerful, could also flow as fluidly and tranquil as ever.

Staples opened with “If You’re Ready,” (Come Go with Me”) that set the stage for the power-packed line up that followed.

She bellowed about her friends and “the help I get from people who love me” in a brazen version of her song “Take Us Back” (‘16).

Tunes performed during this soulful review as “Love and Trust” (‘16); and relayed her deeply soulful message of togetherness that often features lyrics that preach the gospel of social consciousness with a deep conviction that is obvious.

Staples also performed some of her own personal favorites by other artists as “Slippery People” by David Byrne (‘84) and “For what it’s Worth” (Steven Stills ‘66).

“We need one another y’all, we got to come together, these are trying times y’all… and if you see your neighbor, reach out and touch that person, put a smile on your face, speak to that person–ask them how they feel,” she urged. “You know it’s just nice to be nice.”

Her perspective is supremely refreshing with its simplistic solutions that speak to the heart and keeps the audience in a state of “amen.”

Guitarist Rick Holmstrom

Quite evident was Staple’s connection with her band leader of 11 years, guitarist Rick Holmstrom–a gangly fellow who swung and swayed through many of the crowd-pleasing tunes she’s best known for. His unconventional and full-bodied style of blues licks provided just what Staples needed to give the audience exactly what they came for.

Other members of the group included: Jeff Turmes, bass; Stephen Hodges, drums along with two backup vocalist Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle all were introduced as part of the intro to “Touch a Hand, Make a Friend,” one their most successful singles.

Holmstrom’s moderately well-balanced approach to the songs, would unexpectedly erupt in a blazing explosion of guitar riffs done solo. It was an astonishing display for anyone questioning his ability.

“What’s keeping us from getting back to Roanoke,” she said she asked her manager, showing her fondness for the area and the Jeff Center itself. “Before I knew it, it came up on the schedule.

Putting the final touches to her performance she closed with “We Got Work to Do” interjecting lyrics about the present administration and “the way we’re livin today.”

Still it was the incredible energy, antics (between songs) and the extraordinary vocal style of the star herself that totally demands the well-deserved allegiance Mavis Staples receives as a timeless and legendary artist.