In the '70s, guitarist-vocalist Roebuck "Pops" Staples and his family gospel group joined other black musicians immersed in the social and cultural upheaval of the time. Alongside such artists as Curtis Mayfield, the Staples Singers belted out tunes meant to inspire and sometimes challenge the listener, racking up hits along the way. Up front most often on those sides was daughter Mavis, whose vocal fire could nurture or sear, depending on the content.
Though Pops is now gone, on her latest, Mavis tends to the family business in splendid fashion. As before, the message may vary in tone, but never in its core intensity. The ultimately uplifting opening track, "Step Into the Light," possesses a right-between-the-eyes seriousness, as do the secular commentaries "Ain't No Better Than You" and "There's a Devil on the Loose." The classic Staples-styled small-group backup is enhanced by deep acoustic atmospherics that lend an enchanting aura to Mavis's hypnotic take on "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" With the rediscovery of Solomon Burke and Al Green heralding a resurgence of classic soul to some, perhaps it's Mavis's turn to stand among the great soul divas. It's recognition long overdue.