Livin' on a High Note

Livin' on a High Note

by Mavis StaplesMavis Staples


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The title of Mavis Staples' fourth studio album for the Anti- label could apply to any given point in the singer's career, but in early 2016 it seemed especially apt. Livin' on a High Note was released the week her version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" won a Grammy -- only her second -- in the category of Best American Roots Performance, and preceded the HBO premiere of the documentary Mavis! by a couple weeks. Staples was in the public consciousness as much as ever and was continuing to move in new directions. While the 2015 EP, Your Good Fortune, was made strictly with Son Little, and the preceding albums saw her work closely with Jeff Tweedy, this one was produced by M. Ward, another seasoned and sympathetic musician previously outside the Staples sphere. Material was sought from a wide-ranging roster of songwriters -- such as Valerie June, Ben Harper, Neko Case, and Merrill Garbus -- some of whom had to do a bit of homework prior to writing. Staples and her backing band, including backing vocalists Donny Gerrard and Vicki Randle, recorded with Ward, who made some lyrical and musical adjustments and otherwise kept the process as simple as possible. Inspired by Pharrell Williams' "Happy," Staples requested joyous material from her collaborators and got it, though it's all more true to her and her family group's past than to '60s pop-soul Motown, both in sound and in lyrical content. There are several standouts, like Benjamin Booker's welcoming opener "Take Us Back" and Nick Cave's consoling "Jesus Lay Down Beside Me." (Imagine Staples being handed a copy of Junkyard.) Ward himself co-wrote two of the more compelling songs. "Dedicated," a soft and contented love song, co-written by Justin Vernon, regards an enduring romance, while the closing number -- the barest song on the album -- incorporates words from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Drum Major Instinct" sermon. Staples' heart and soul are in it from front to back. Hope, love, and positivity beam through.

Product Details

Release Date: 02/19/2016
Label: Anti
UPC: 0045778744428
catalogNumber: 87444
Rank: 63517


  1. Take Us Back
  2. Love and Trust
  3. If It's a Light
  4. Action
  5. High Note
  6. Don't Cry
  7. Tomorrow
  8. Dedicated
  9. History, Now
  10. One Love
  11. Jesus Lay Down Beside Me
  12. MLK Song

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Mavis Staples   Primary Artist,Vocals
Donny Gerrard   Vocals,Background Vocals
Stephen Hodges   Drums
Rick Holmstrom   Electric Guitar
Vicki Randle   Background Vocals
Tucker Martine   Tambourine
Humberto Ruiz   Trombone
M. Ward   Organ,Synthesizer,Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals,Guitar (12 String Acoustic)
Alex Budman   Flute,Tenor Saxophone
David Moyer   Baritone Saxophone
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews   Soloist
Nathaniel Walcott   Trumpet,Clavinet
Jeff Turmes   Bass
Sean Billings   Trumpet

Technical Credits

Nick Cave   Composer
Donny Gerrard   Composer
Ben Harper   Composer
Martin Luther King   Composer
Neko Case   Composer
Pierre de Reeder   Engineer
Laura Veirs   Composer
M. Ward   Composer,Producer,Adaptation
Masaki Koike   Art Direction
Justin Vernon   Composer
Aaron Livingston   Composer
Valerie June   Composer
Mat Lejeune   Engineer
Nathaniel Walcott   Horn Arrangements
Merrill Garbus   Composer
Charity Rose Thielen   Composer
Jon Batiste   Composer
Benjamin Booker   Composer
Egbert Nathaniel Dawkins   Composer
Josh Kvale   Engineer

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