Sounds like … soul-drenched traditional gospel with a rock 'n' roll spirit, as if the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, and Bob Dylan all convened for an evening concert.

At a glance … this is Mavis Staples at her very best: proclaiming the message of the civil-rights movement, while keeping her feet firmly planted on the gospel she's always held dear.

Mavis Staples was made for such a time as this. In her more than 40 years as a performer and civil-rights activist, she stepped outside the confines of the church to bring a message of hope to those that otherwise had little reason to be hopeful. As the lead singer of the iconic Staple Singers, she continually sang of a better home in the sky, a place where ain't nobody cryin'—perhaps resigned to the idea that heaven was the only home for her and her people.

Today, on the eve of the inauguration of America's first black president, the matriarch's admonitions can't help but appear anachronistic. They're museum pieces pointing to a time when the country was a house divided against itself—incapable to stand together even in the most basic of human tenets, let alone even dream of nominating a minority candidate to the highest office in the land.

Live: Hope at the Hideout finds Staples relating to an intimate audience, in word and song, what it was like to live in the America of old. Wise, weathered, and worn, her voice resounds with more command than ever, sounding like a preacher as she shares with her parishioners the most powerful selections from her acclaimed 2007 gemstone, We'll Never Turn Back.

Accompanied by a sparse three-piece band and a few backup vocalists, Staples brings to life the spirituals and freedom songs her late father Pops taught her to sing, yet with a conviction that's very much her own. "You know that when the Spirit hits you, you've got to move," says the singer after letting loose in an electric rendition of Pops' "Freedom Highway," a perfect segue for the civil-rights centerpiece "We Shall Not Be Moved."

Don't think for a moment Staples is dwelling on the past. Aware of the crude reality of the times, she points to a silver lining in covers of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "I'll Take You There," two of her family's biggest hits that here sound as timely as ever. God knows if these stories and songs will retain their allure as the country adapts and conforms to the idea of a black head of state. For now, they remain a ferocious reminder of the spirit and the struggle of a movement that will be perpetually etched in the fabric of our history: a harbinger of the hope that is now ours.

Live: Hope at the Hideout
Our Rating
4½ Stars - Excellent
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Release Date
November 1, 2008
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