Music Reviews
6:07 pm
Tue June 25, 2013

For Mavis Staples, 'One True Vine' Brings Together Kindred Spirits

Originally published on Thu June 27, 2013 12:24 pm

On their second collaboration, One True Vine, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy assemble a story using songs written by various artists, dotted by frequent lyrical references to The Staple Singers. The album follows a narrative arc of struggle, acceptance and salvation that's mirrored in the crescendo and decrescendo of the music, starting out low and slow.

As Staples' new album builds, she wrestles with life's travails, but her faith is always there, offering refuge. Even a secular song, like Funkadelic's "Can You Get to That," feels deeply spiritual with Staples' bold voice leading the other singers as if heading up a church choir.

Staples brings the album gently back down at its end with the title track, which Tweedy wrote and originally recorded with Wilco. Tweedy not only produced the album, but he plays almost all of the instruments on it, as well, with an assist from his teenage son Spencer on drums. Tweedy's arrangements are stripped down and spacious, giving Staples room for her full range of vocal expression, from an R&B growl to gospel fervor. The studio atmospherics he's developed over years of self-recording put the iconic singer in an effective new framework, turning a legendary, distinctive voice into moody, contemporary roots music.

In the 1960s and '70s, Staples brought spirituality and social consciousness to a pop audience. She never stopped evolving as a musician, working with artists like The Band, John Scofield, Burt Bacharach and too many others to mention. In Tweedy, Staples has found a kindred spirit — a fellow musical seeker, a versatile collaborator and the perfect partner to recontextualize what she does best for a generation that grew up listening to bands like his.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Singer Mavis Staples has been performing for more than six decades. Along with her family band, The Staple Singers, she brought gospel and social activism into mainstream music. The group earned the nickname God's greatest hitmakers. But Staples had never won a Grammy until 2010 for her collaboration with Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco. Now, Staples and Tweedy are trying to build on that success with another album coming out today.

It's called "One True Vine" and Meredith Ochs has this review.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MAVIS STAPLES: (Singing) Some holy ghost keeps me hanging on.

MEREDITH OCHS, BYLINE: On their second collaboration, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy assemble a story using songs written by various artists, dotted by frequent lyric references to The Staple Singers. The CD follows a narrative arc of struggle, acceptance and salvation that's mirrored in the crescendo and decrescendo of the music, starting out low and slow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAPLES: (Singing) I feel the hands, but I don't see anyone, anyone.

OCHS: As Staples' new CD builds, she wrestles with life's travails, but her faith is always there, offering refuge. Even a secular song, like this one by Funkadelic, feels deeply spiritual with Staples' bold voice leading the other singers like a church choir.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAPLES: (Singing) Can you get to that? Can you get - I want to know if you can get to that. Can you get? I want to know if you can get to that.

OCHS: Mavis Staples brings her CD gently back down at its end with the title track, which Jeff Tweedy wrote and originally recorded with Wilco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAPLES: (Singing) I want to be what you are to me. Life has ceased. I was lost and tired. You set me free from this mighty, mighty fire just in time. Be my one true love.

OCHS: Jeff Tweedy not only produced the new Mavis Staples CD, but he plays almost all the instruments on it, as well, with an assist from his teenage son Spencer on drums. Tweedy's arrangements are stripped down, giving Staples room for her full range of vocal expression, from R&B growl to gospel fervor.

The spacious studio sound he developed over years of self-recording put the iconic singer in an effective framework, turning a legendary, distinctive voice into moody, contemporary roots music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAPLES: (Singing) I get tired and lonely, lose my way. My lord, he knows me every step of the way. My lord, he knows me...

OCHS: In the 1960s and '70s, Mavis Staples brought spirituality and social consciousness to a pop audience. She never stopped evolving her music, working with artists like The Band, John Scofield, Burt Bacharach and too many others to mention. In Jeff Tweedy, Staples has found a kindred spirit, a fellow musical seeker, a versatile collaborator, the perfect partner to recontextualize what she does best for a generation that grew up listening to bands like his.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAPLES: (Singing) Soldiers seize everybody, soldiers seize everybody, all your mountain, down in the valley, you gonna reap just what you sow...

SIEGEL: The new album from Mavis Staples is called "One True Vine." Reviewer Meredith Ochs is a talk show host and DJ at Sirius XM radio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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