It's been more than 35 years since the youngest member of the Staple Singers helped propel her family to chart success with songs like "Respect Yourself." Now 66, Mavis Staples is still spreading musical inspiration, this time with a collection of traditional civil rights songs. Using frequently improvised vocals, Staples opens with the story of a girl who looks to her grandparents for reassurance the first time she has to drink out of a "colored only" water fountain. The production work of Ry Cooder shifts between the dark side of blues ("In the Mississippi River") and the shimmering light of gospel ("On My Way").
Not all of the songs are traditional. On "My Own Eyes," Staples writes an original track about her own memories of the 1960s. The song doesn't leave the present behind, invoking imagery of Hurricane Katrina. We'll Never Turn Back is a link from 1967 to 2007, drawing on the energy of the past to confront the challenges of a new time.