If ever there were a time for Mavis Staples to return to recording, 2004 is it. Her tenure with her family's group the Staple Singers led by her late father Pops offered a steadying, positive presence on the pop scene during the late antiwar unrest and civil rights struggles of the 1960s through the 1970s. They offered up notions of personal responsibility, dignity, and spiritual hope in a heady and uncertain time. Have a Little Faith is a stellar collection of bluesy folk gospel and classic soul grooves recorded for modern times. Staples co-produced with Jim Tullio, who has also worked with John Martyn (who makes a cameo here) and Richie Havens. The album is subtle, laden with beautiful dark grooves, moody guitars, organic percussion, and B-3 and Rhodes piano. One can feel the presence and influence of Pops on these sides. He was a musician who understood that the empty spaces left on a record were as important as the music. Tullio gives Staples' gorgeous, grainy contralto a lot of room to weave its own magic amid the wonderfully warm, down-home swirl of the band. The album opener, "Step into the Light," was written by Robi Draco Rosa, Tullio, and Staples and features Martyn on guitar. The Delta blues acoustic slide feel that accompanies Staples at the beginning of the tune is counteranchored by Chris Cameron's clavinet and the backing vocals of the Dixie Hummingbirds. The title cut comes right from Stax/Volt in its beautifully articulated guitar lines and a combination of B-3 and Wurlitzer. But it's Staples' voice with its welcoming conviction and certainty that soars: "There's evil all around us/We got to rise above/Got to fight the good fight/With that war with love/Hold on, hold on/Help is on the way/There's a better tomorrow/I can feel it today." What's amazing is that you believe her. Her reworking of the great Delta tune "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" (with additional lyrics by Pops) is as storefront church as it gets. The message tunes, like "Ain't No Better Than You" and "At the End of the Day," are the gritty soul and funk tunes that are desperately needed right now, and the kind of songs that used to come bursting from the AM and FM dials by major and marginal artists alike. A Chicago choir aids Staples and the band on "In Times Like These," written by Tullio and LeRoy Marinell; even R. Kelly couldn't deliver a tune as inspirational as this one. There's nothing overblown about it's all-heavy, heart-lifting soul. The set ends with the first tune the Staples ever sang and recorded, a bare-bones, deep blues rendering of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," with acoustic slide guitars, a bass harmonica, and hand percussion with a Wurlitzer backing Staples' understated yet devastatingly emotional performance. Have a Little Faith is a glorious return for Staples and is capable of inspiring those who are lucky enough to encounter it.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek