It's been more than a decade since singer Mavis Staples recorded a CD devoted mostly to new songs, but "Have a Little Faith" would be cause for rejoicing even if weren't so long overdue. Steeped in Southern soul, gospel and blues music, it celebrates the 64-year-old singer's rich family legacy, attests to her abiding spirituality and resonates with the sound of her gritty, impassioned voice. In other words, don't be surprised to find the album appearing on numerous "best of" lists at year's end.
The former lead vocalist for the Staple Singers has been popping up a lot lately, collaborating with Bob Dylan and Dr. John, and contributing to albums devoted to the music of Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Cash and Stephen Foster. "Have a Little Faith," however, repeatedly rewards fans who've had a lot of patience.
The moods are diverse, the themes familiar. "Step Into the Light," rooted in Delta blues, is laced with acoustic slide-guitar tones and wrapped in comforting harmonies produced by the Dixie Hummingbirds. "I Wanna Thank You" and "I Still Believe in You," on the other hand, are fervent expressions of praise and gratitude. "Pops Recipe" introduces a Memphis soul-tinted homage to the late family patriarch, Roebuck "Pops" Staples, while "Ain't No Better Than You" is a direct descendant of the Staples' hit anthem "Respect Yourself."
Mind you, "Faith" has its flaws. Some trite lyrics surface here and there, but there's no faulting Staples' soul-stirring performances.
An unvarnished rendering of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" seems a particularly fitting coda, too, considering how often Staples evokes her strong family ties here. It was, after all, the first song her dad taught her to sing.