Sunday Morning Music – Mavis Staples: One True Vine
by Cat Johnson
Mavis Staples is at it again. The soul/gospel legend whose voice powers the Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There,” one of the grooviest, uplifting jams ever, has, again, established herself as one of the unshakeable matriarchs of music.
For the recently-released album, One True Vine, Staples again enlisted the help of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy—Tweedy produced her 2012 masterpiece You Are Not Alone—who played much of the music and held down production duties. The result is a collaboration that is rocking, exquisitely-crafted and full of subtlety and soul. And the beauty is that, in spite of the album’s great production and arrangements, this is absolutely a Mavis Staples album. Her voice, with all its inflection, spirit and weathered beauty, is front and center throughout.
Props to Tweedy for understanding that Staples is one of the great treasures of music. She’s been in the game for nearly 50 years and Tweedy’s respect for her is palpable. He does exactly what he should do: make Mavis sound really great by giving her a musical foundation that she can take off and do her thing from.
There are a few Tweedy-penned tracks on the album as well as songs written by Nick Lowe (“Far Celestial Shore”) and old-time gospel-bluesman Washington Phillips (“What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?”). But the standout track is a cover of the Funkadelic hit, “Can You Get to That.” Tweedy and Staples bring enough of the original to capture the spirit of the head-bobbing classic, and they add new dimensions that give the song new life and texture.
As a whole, One True Vine is a polished-yet-human exploration of faith, struggle, joy and redemption.
Available on CD and vinyl