Title: We Get By
Artist: Mavis Staples
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: May 24, 2019
Living legend and vocal powerhouse Mavis Staples’ twelfth studio album, We Get By, features eleven tracks written and produced by Ben Harper. Harper was able to capture the voice and the spirit of Staples by creating pieces that speak to who she is now and has always been—an advocate for change and for humanity.
Staples’ new album is clearly situated within the social unrest and political turmoil of the current American landscape. In the opening track “Change,” Staples sings, “X is the letter, blue is the color, one is the number, now is the time—can we change around here?” However, it’s the third verse that really exemplifies this project: “What good is freedom if we have not learned to be free?”
On “Brothers and Sisters,” Staples warns against “trouble in the land…we can’t trust that man.” The closing track “One More Change” expresses hope that change can be made no matter how bad things have become or how long they have been going on. As Staples sings, “I’ve worried for so long, I’m not worried now, this heavy load, help me set it down,” she also cautions “some things take a lifetime, some things can’t wait.” Yes, change is going to take some time, but some things need to be changed immediately!
The art work chosen for the album cover is “Outside Looking In,” a photo captured by American photographer, author, musician and director Gordon Parks. Originally published as part of a photo essay in Life magazine titled “The Restraints: Open and Hidden,” the image helped expose Americans to the effects of racial segregation. A group of six African American children look through a fence at a playground they can’t enter. They’re grown now, some may have even died. We Get By reminds us that the civil rights work Staples and others accomplished was not the end. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of humanity and freedom, people have to stand together against racism, corrupt politics, homophobia, xenophobia, classism and many of the other issues that plague America.
We Get By represents hope for a world that is otherwise hopeless and freedom for people who have yet to learn what it means to be free. It expresses joy in the midst of social unrest. We get by standing together as hopeful people ready and willing to make “one more change.”
The release of the album also aligns with three celebratory shows commemorating Staples’ 80th birthday. Presented by Newport Folk Festival, the shows featuring Mavis and music friends will take place at New York City’s Apollo Theater, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and Los Angeles’s Theatre at Ace Hotel. The 2016 Kennedy Center honoree frankly stated the reason for the shows: “I just wanted the world to know that I made it to 80! . . .I am letting my fans know that I’m over the hill but now I’m going over the mountain.”
Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis Jr