Mavis Staples | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., the Staple Singers went from singing gospel to "freedom songs," and with the new We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-) Mavis Staples demonstrates how those standards of the civil rights movement remain sadly relevant today. Updating the 60s protest canon, she ad-libs lyrics on some tracks, adding raw first-person remembrances of social injustice, and on others addresses current issues, such as the nation's feeble response to Hurricane Katrina, with refreshing bluntness. The songs are pure gospel and blues--Ry Cooder, who produced the record, contributes some typically swell slide guitar--but the arrangements vary to include the autumnal choral backing of South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo and some rather out-of-place drum loops constructed by Cooder's son Joaquin. Cooder's best production decision is to keep the instrumental backing lean and unobtrusive, deferring to Staples's raspy, full-blooded cry. The Blind Boys of Alabama open. a 7:30 PM, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $20-$70.

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