19. Mavis Staples, 'Livin' on a High Note'
After two winning collaborations with producer Jeff Tweedy, the utterly undiminished 77-year-old R&B queen moves on to M. Ward, another indie-roots rat who knows his way around a studio. Staples' weathered optimism and soulful self-care tips soar atop straight-ahead arrangements driven by guitar licks that Steve Cropper himself would've been proud of. For material, she turned to a crew of luminaries from the world of Americana, indie rock and all points in between, including the likes of Nick Cave and Justin Vernon. But the songwriting peaks come from two young women: Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, who serves up the rallying cry of "Action," and Memphis roots singer-songwriter Valerie June, who offers a path to joy on "High Note." And to honor Staples' legacy as a civil rights warrior, Ward adapts the words of Martin Luther King to a moving acoustic coda. K.H.