2013 TD Ottawa Jazz Festival: Ottawa, Canada, June 21-26, 2013
Holmstrom may have looked like a businessman when he walked on, but the minute he picked up one of his two vintage Telecasters, he morphed into a visceral, animated, blues-drenched guitarist whose tasty tone, ability to move between the sparest of accompaniment and screaming solos at the drop of a hat, and his constant support for Staples throughout the set demonstrated why this unlikely-looking six-stringer has racked up a resume filled with credits like Smokey Wilson, Johnny Dyer and John Medeski. A consummate showman, he squeezed gritty lines filled with cathartic bends and rapid-fire strumming into solos that would have brought the house down first, had Staples not already done so with her powerful voice and charismatic presence. Turmes---tall, lanky, and, with a set of horn-rimmed glasses and a beat-up Fender Precision basslooked like he'd just come out of a time machine from the 1950s, his fuzz bass supporting the funkified "I Like the Things About Me" and working, lock-in-key, with Hodges, who was rarely flashy but kept the pulse so in-the-pocket that, long before Staples got the capacity crowd on its feet,filling not only the church's main floor, but the balcony as well had them moving like waves in their seats.
Largely culling material from her two recent recordings produced by Wilco's Jeff Tweedythe Grammy Award-winning You Are Not Alone (Anti-, 2010) and about-to-be-released One True Vine (Anti-, 2013) (literally due the following day), Staples lived up to her initial promise with a set that was filled with spiritual joy and positive energy. She was also a generous leader, giving her backup singers their own moments in the spotlight on songs like One True Vine's "Can You Get That," where Gerrard demonstrated his surprisingly broad range, and, of course, on The Band's "The Weight"their 1994 hit with country star Marty Stuart on the various artist release Rhythm, Country and Blues (MCA)giving Gerrard, Randle and Trumes a verse each. The only singer who didn't receive a solo spot was, surprisingly, sister Yvonne, but there must surely have been a reason, one which the crowd will never know.
After Staples finished "The Weight," Staples screamed out "Levon ... Levon ... LEVON!," in tribute to the recently deceased drummer from The Band, Levon Helm, whose voice helped define the original version on Music From Big Pink (Capitol, 1969). It was a fitting tribute to the drummer who maintained, until his passing, that much of The Band's material attributed to guitarist Robbie Robertsen should have been co-credited to the rest of the group. "Our brother Levon had to leave us, but he left so many memories and so many great songs," she said, asking the crowd to "give it up for Levon Helm" before jumping into the roots-driven medley of "Too Close" (once again featuring Gerrard) and "On My Way to Heaven," where Mavis picked up the baton for a deep-throated rendition backed by Holmstrom's note-perfect, tremolo-driven guitar.
By the set's end, Staples had the entire audience on its feet, clapping and singing; Staples may have continually referred to this as her first visit to Ottawahaving forgotten past appearances like her double bill with the Blind Boys of Alabama, at the city's Bluesfestbut hopefully it won't be her last. In times of trouble, everyone regardless of their spiritual predilectionneeds someone like Mavis Staples to bring a little happiness, inspiration and powerful healing vibrations into their lives.