Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back [Anti-, 2007]
One of the rare entertainers to actively support the civil rights movement, gospel-pop-soul matron Mavis Staples honors the music of that movement with these re-created freedom songs. Of documentary value throughout, they're most moving when Staples embellishes them with personal memories, such as her one-young-woman integration of a washateria in Forrest, Mississippi. On her own new "With My Own Eyes," the updated "99 1/2," and producer Ry Cooder's "I'll Be Rested," she doesn't merely revive rousing old songs--she brings their moral passion into the present. As usual, Cooder's refab authenticity can get annoying--he distresses the arrangements with anachronistic guitar stabs like he's antiquing a bureau. But because African-American rhythms come easier to him than Cuban clave, his timing is spot on. More proof that God loves this project: He or She even grants Ry's klutzy son Joachim some tasty loops. A-