Having picked up her first ever Grammy Award at the ripe old age of 70 with 2010’s You Are Not Alone, Mavis Staples has shrewdly hooked up with the same producer, Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy, for a second batch of similarly warm, rootsy and stripped-back secular songs which suggest the gospel-soul legend may need to write another acceptance speech come next February.
Tackling themes of redemption, the afterlife and spiritual devotion, One True Vine is undeniably an overtly religious experience. But enjoyment of the record needn’t be confined to those who share a similar belief system. Staples’ voice is perhaps even more quietly mesmerising in her eighth decade than it ever was during her 40-year stint in The Staple Singers, a fact which Tweedy seems well aware of with his simple and uncluttered live-sounding arrangements. And while the latter part of the album veers into more traditional gospel territory, inspired covers of recent slowcore hymns and 70s acoustic funk protest songs are just as likely to be embraced by devout atheists as they are everyday churchgoers.
First recorded by Low for their recent The Invisible Way LP, Staples retains the subdued hymnal quality of the Tweedy-produced original whilst also adding an extra effortless sense of gravitas on a tribute to the mysterious spiritual being who is keeping her faith alive:
Backed by an unexpectedly menacing drone on the first of three compositions penned by Tweedy, 73-year-old Staples’ admission that she’s tired is perhaps understandable considering she’s been singing similarly fervent ‘praise the lord’ sentiments ever since she was ten: [LISTEN]
Accompanied by an unnamed baritone, Staples’ hoarse and husky gospel vocals are the perfect fit for this cover of Funkadelic‘s leftfield venture into acoustic rock, which with nods to The Beatles and Martin Luther King, served as a paean to the principles of karma: [LISTEN]
Displaying her ability to sing every word as though her life depended on it, Staples reveals that even though the joy of music can temporarily lift her spirits, she still yearns for the day when she will be reunited with the lost love who she believed she’d always be linked arm in arm with:
Penned by pub-rock veteran Nick Lowe, the album’s most optimistic spiritual number sees Staples envisage the kind of utopia she can look forward to when she shuffles off this mortal coil where the sound of laughter reigns supreme and hate, poverty and war are alien concepts: [LISTEN]
Staples may seem pretty convinced that the afterlife is a paradise where sin and sorrow are all done away with on this gutsy rendition of Washington Phillips‘ gospel standard, but she appears less sure as to how the friends she’s lost are actually spending their time there:
Continuing the second half of the album’s journey into more traditional gospel territory, “Sow Good Seeds” sees Staples extols the virtues of karmic retribution over the kind of slide guitar riff that sounds like it was recorded on a Memphis street corner circa 1920: [LISTEN]
A surprisingly fuzzed out take on the self-empowering ode Mavis used to perform with The Staple Singers, “I Like The Things About Me” could certainly teach the likes of Aguilera and 1D a thing or two about how to embrace your flaws without descending into schmaltz: [LISTEN]
Tackling the gospel favourite made famous by Tennessee country-blues legend Fred McDowell, Staples’ voice cracks under the weight of her devotion to the son of God while Tweedy adds to the jubilant atmosphere with a rousing rhythm guitar hook and some fervent handclaps:
An unreleased outtake from their 2007 Sky Blue Sky LP, one of Wilco‘s most overtly religious tracks gets the Staples treatment here as she pledges her allegiance to the saviour of the album’s title with the kind of elegance and dignity we’ve come to expect. A fittingly graceful closer: