After 65 years of making timeless music, Mavis Staples continues to polish her gift for making sure people feel good. The Grammy-winning Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hasnt lost her touch for belting out empowering vocals that are like a combination of picket signs, cautionary tales and church sermons. The down-home Chicago natives genre-blurring legacy is synonymous with delivering breathy, soul-stirring message songs one minute, followed by catchy inspirational tunes the next.
Staples, along with singer/songwriter Joan Osborne, brought her 31-city Solid Soul Tour to Ferst Center for the Arts on the campus of Georgia Tech in Atlanta this past Wednesday evening. Despite a heavy downpour of rain (in some cases flooding), Staples bubbly old school stage presence and infectious chuckles made it all better. The encouraging Grammy Lifetime Achievement award recipient even performed an impromptu cover of Pharrell Williams Happy midway through her set.
The combined hour and 50-minute show opened with Osborne. The seven-time Grammy nominee from Kentuckys repertoire had a slew of blues rock elements (Shake Your Hips and Where We Start). Rhythmically just tapping the body of an acoustic guitar, she segued into a remarkably unprecedented Mississippi Delta-styled makeover of her mid-tempo pop single St. Teresa.
The multi-platinum selling performer responsible for the Relish LP and critically acclaimed efforts like How Sweet It Is, Bring It on Home and Breakfast in Bed channeled a very sultry and seductive vibe at times, channeling her stint performing with the surviving members of The Grateful Dead (Brokedown Palace) and revisiting her Love and Hate album (Work on Me). One of Us, Osborness most recognizable single to date, started out tranquil and acoustic before marrying her own distinct gospel flare to guitarist Rick Holmstroms flamenco-styled shreds.
Osborne, at this point in the show enthusiastically shaking a white tambourine, set the stage for Staples with her final selection I Cant Let it Get Me Down. By the time Staples, who Osbourne acknowledged during her set as one of her favorite musical idols, took the stage, the entire audience erupted in applause and a standing ovation.
Periodically standing stage front, Staples, who notably opened for Martin Luther King, Jr.s rallies in the 1960s, took it back with a few Staples Singers standards: If Youre Ready (Come Go With Me), Respect Yourself and of course Ill Take You There. In the midst of the Staples catalog were the uplifting numbers Creep Along Moses, You Are Not Alone, Fight and Wade in the Water.
Osborne joined Staples, the second ever recipient of the Woody Guthrie Prize, for a rendition of The Weight (Take a Load Off, Annie) similar to Staples very own memorable cameo performance with The Band in The Last Waltz.
Even when the youngest member of The Staple Singers decides to sit down, she never lost her charming sense of humor, adopting a few members of the audience as her cousins (insert Staples signature guffaw). Part of the beauty in experiencing Solid Soul is how everything is done in love. Many times, Staples reiterated how she respects Osbornes talents, calling the introspective songwriter a beautiful spirit whose sassy with a beautiful voice.
Each band member was given a solo (Holmstroms incredible guitar dexterity was quite an evening highlight) at some point. Staples herself shared the bulk of her assertive harmonies on all of her songs with background vocalist Donny Gerrard.
Solid Soul in its entirety was just a good time to hear two remarkable female talents of different generations play impassioned music. Everyone sang from the heart, so everything translated well to the audience clapping, singing along and eventually landing on their feet. Lovers of good music had a good time, plain and simple.
EXPLORE Mavis Staples’ Discography via Amazon | iTunes
EXPLORE Joan Osborne’s Discography via Amazon | iTunes