Mavis Staples – One True Vine

Mavis Staples

4 Stars

-Samantha Pannier-

              If Mavis Staples had quit making music five or so albums ago she’d still be a legend, but a royalty-funded retirement just won’t do for the woman who finally won her first Grammy in 2011 at the tender age of 71. One True Vine is Staples’s thirteenth studio record and her second collaboration with producer and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.

              Tweedy and Staples have managed to make a gospel album that is not just soulful and accessible, but downright groovy. The Funkadelic cover “Can You Get To That” and Tweedy-penned “Jesus Wept” are the clear gems.

              “Can You Get To That” is a simultaneously faithful and inventive reimagining of the 1971 Funkadelic tune. It draws out the song’s original Americana and spiritual roots and shines them into solid gold gospel.

              “Jesus Wept” is a heart-wrenching and mournful goodbye ballad with simple accompaniment to highlight Staples’s beautifully vulnerable and shaken lower range.

              Staples has also assembled a pretty remarkable band with whom she shares the spotlight readily. Great respect is due to the near inhuman notes Donny Gerrard hits in “Can You Get To That” and Paul Von Mertens’ clarinet (yes, clarinet) on “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today”. Not to mention the fact that Staples’s stellar backup vocalists will have you humming halleluiah right along with them in no time.

              One True Vine is a triumph of the restraint, musicianship, and wisdom that can only result from melding experiences and careers as unique as Staples’ and Tweedy’s.