Holy moley, We'll Never Turn Back is fabulous. A re-affirmation of the spirit of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s by one of its major voices, We'll Never Turn Back is the finest solo recording of Mavis Staples 'career, thanks in part to the assistance of guitarist and producer Ry Cooder. A number of the songs — "I'll Be Rested," "Jesus is on the Mainline" and "Down in Mississippi" — update traditional gospel, spiritual and civil rights numbers, with Mavis adding her own lyrics to time-tested classics. In "Mississippi," she appends her own memories of the segregated South to create an elegy that's poignant without being heavy-handed.
The Staple Singers 'sound was rooted firmly in the gospel blues tradition, but the group never shied away from new sounds and technologies as long as they worked well together, to make a joyous noise. The same can be said of this record, that very rare breed of collaboration which updates a Ye Olde Authentick-type sound without blanching it into lifelessness. It's Moby's Play if it had been performed by musicians who know gospel blues like the back of their hands. Cooder shows that he's not only capable of channeling the spirit of Staples favorite Blind Willie Johnson (as he did for the soundtrack of Wim Wenders 'Paris, Texas) but that he really knows his way around today's computer-based recording technology as well. The rendition of the spiritual "I'll Be Rested" is driven by a lovely little melodic loop that recalls an electronic imagining of Washington Phillips. These are beautiful story-songs, exactly what Mavis does so well. It's tough to imagine an album with more spirit, groove and grace.