STYLE: R&B RATING OUR PRODUCT CODE: 20450-CAS3101 LABEL: Paisley Park 9250492 FORMAT: CD Album
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Reviewed by Karl Allison
It's impossible to review this album without writing more about Prince than about Mavis Staples. The purple man dominates the album to such a degree that you could say it's really a Prince album with Mavis singing on it. He is the executive producer; he wrote or co-wrote eight of the 12 tracks and even pops up a couple of times with an "all other instruments played by" credit. He's certainly been generous to the lady he normally employs as a backing singer, for this material is as good as anything he's produced in the last few years. Having said all that, Mavis makes a fine contribution herself. The songs give her plenty of scope for expression and her voice is so high in the mix that you can hear her every breath. It makes for a great meeting of styles: Prince's streetwise grooves married to a true gospel vocal. The songs are mostly up tempo, the pick of them being "The Undertaker" and "Melody Cool" where Prince creates a characteristically effortless rhythm. As for the message, it is often inspirational rather than full-on gospel, but there is enough there to let you know who Mavis is singing about. The most obvious example of this is "A Man Called Jesus" where she breathes a rap that pulls no punches at all. In the sleeve notes Mavis describes Prince as "My Earth Angel" and adds, "Heaven must have sent you". However virtuous he may be in private, it is the seedy side of his public performances that will make Christians wary of such a claim. It is an extraordinary album, but so many will feel uncomfortable with the Prince connection that I feel restrained from awarding it a square or two more.