On March 25th we went to the Portsmouth Music hall to see a woman who is, simply put, a National Treasure of music, Ms. Mavis Staples. Mavis was born in 1940 in Chicago and is part of the institution known as the Staples Singers lead by her late and beloved father Pops Staples.
One of the things that has made seeing Mavis special in recent years has been her current backing band, guitarist Rick Holmstrom’s Trio. I first heard this line up on the superb live 2008 CD “Live: Hope at the Hideout” followed by an amazing show in New Orleans in the spring of 2009. This simple instrumental trio (drum, bass and guitar) and 3 backup singers make for a jewel like setting for the rich, transcendent voice and spirit of Mavis (in this case there is no way to separate the voice from the spirituality and presence of the great lady herself, and why would you ever want to)
Hearing Mavis with Mr. Holmstrom and his trio reminds me of the scene from Norman Maclean’s novella “A River Runs Through it” (both book and movie) where the young writer Norman Maclean is being edited by his father, who is busy crossing out more than half of what the young writer has written removing all that is superfluous. Of course that speaks directly to the graceful simplicity that is so often found in great art, nothing wasted and focus on only what is relevant and important to tell the story. The pairing of Mr. Holmstrom’s band and Ms. Staples is an object lesson in that understanding; all the prodigious talent, spirituality and deep feeling brought to bear in delivering profound and joyous music, stripped of any pretense or unnecessary embellishment.
One of my memories of that stunning New Orleans show back in 2009, and repeated this year in Portsmouth, was Mavis patting Mr. Holmstrom on the back while he played a guitar solo. I told Rick after the show when the daughter of Pops Staples pats you on the back while you play then you really know you are doing something right! Indeed everyone in this group is doing a lot right and they are not to be missed - lucky for us they will be back locally at the Lowell Summer Music Series on Friday August 19th 2011 for a show that, I am proud to say, will be sponsored by Riley & Associates, PC.