Wednesday, December 07, 2016

I Believe To My Soul

I am not familiar with producer Joe Henry but apparently this 2005 recording was his attempt to revive the careers of soul greats Allen Toussaint, Mavis Staples, Billy Preston, Ann Pebbles and Irma Thomas. Not quite sure how I stumbled upon this one, myself, but these artists are legendary and always deserve a chance at a new audience.

Mavis Staples is, of course, the lead (female) vocalist for the great soul/gospel combo the Staple Singers. She has continued her career with a solo album recently and here she gives a fine, passionate performance on the gospel classic "You Must Have That True Religion". I have been a big fan of Billy Preston's since first discovering his work in the late 60's/early 70's and he is in great voice here and his keyboard work is solid, as well, but the song is nothing exceptional, unfortunately. Ann Pebbles gives a soulful take on Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You", Irma Thomas gets funky in a Sly Stone kinda way for "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh" and shows that she still has an excellent set of pipes and Allen Toussaint gives an updated New Orleans groove and cool keys to "Mi Amour".

Mavis' "Keep On Pushing" is like a laid back Staple Singers track, there's some wah-wah funkiness in Preston's "As One", Irma's "Loving Arms" is a soulful ballad, Toussaint's "Riverboat" gives a nod to :Proud Mary" (or was it the other way around?) as a soul/jazz/blues, Preston gives some superb, churchy organ to Staples' "That's Enough", Toussaint returns for some groovy piano work in the jazzy instro "Turvalon", Ann gives another mellow ballad in "When the Candle Burns Low" and the CD concludes with Toussaint's positive message "We Are One".

While this is a great concept, it really doesn't come off as good as it could have. Partly the extraordinarily laid back (and sometimes pretty lackluster) material and partially the mellow production, there is not a lot of excitement here, which is a shame as these performers have all been incredibly exciting in their times. Not really something to recommend, unfortunately. Nice packaging and booklet, though!