BY STEVE KLINGE
Mavis Staples didn’t truly find her voice as a solo artist until the 21st century, when she was in her sixties. That’s shocking, because she began performing in the early 1950s with her father, Roebuck “Pops” Staples and her siblings in the Staple Singers, and she is one of the greatest rhythm & blues singers. Since her father’s death in 2000, however, she has released four studio albums that balance rootsy nostalgia with contemporary vitality, the last two, including the new One True Vine, produced by Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
One True Vine is a stripped-down set, even more so than 2010’s Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone. Many tracks feature little more than Tweedy on guitar and bass, his son Spencer on drums, and backing vocals from Kelly Hogan, Tiffany “Makeda” Francisco and Donny Gerard. That’s enough, especially since the focus is rightfully on Staples’ earthy vocals: her masterful phrasing, commanding control and earnest sentiments. The tracklist includes a few traditional gospel classics, such as the uplifting “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus)” and the thoughtful “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today,” but the emphasis is on contemporary songs that conflate the sacred with the secular, three by Tweedy and others from Nick Lowe, George Clinton and Low’s Alan Sparhawk (“Holy Ghost,” which was on Low’s recent Tweedy-produced The Invisible Way).
Echoes of Pops Staples’ electric blues reverberate in Tweedy’s “Every Step,” in the traditional “Sow Good Seeds,” in Pops’ own “I Like The Things About Me” and hints of the Staple Singers’ rousing call-and-response style surface occasionally, most joyfully in Clinton’s “Can I Get To That.” The overall mood, however, is thoughtful and somber: unlike You Are Not Alone, this is a contemplative late-night album rather than a celebratory Sunday morning one. It’s wonderful.
DOWNLOAD: “Can You Get To That,” “Every Step,” “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind On Jesus).”