Review: Mavis Staples, ‘One True Vine’


Mavis Staples⎪ One True Vine ⎪Anti ⎪⎪ US Release Date: June 25, 2013

produced by Jeff Tweedy

Mavis-Staples-05Mavis Staples is an inspiration. No, it’s not because One True Vine is so spiritually driven, but because Staples sounds awesome to be nearly 74.  Among the many positives on this second collaboration effort with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy is that Staples never has to over-sing or push her voice.  The arrangements suit her perfectly in which she is surrounded by acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and backing vocals.  There are few rubs, but the most glaring one is the flip side of one the pros; sometimes Staples sounds too relaxed and comfortable where and little more flexibility and grit would’ve really ‘knocked it out of the park’.

Ten songs deep, One True Vine keeps things short and sweet.  Opener “Holy Ghost” (a cover courtesy of Low’s 2013 effort The Invisible Way) finds Staples commanding and soulful atop folksy production work.  While she’s reserved, Staples does enough to pack a punch, particularly when her voice cracks with expression.  On the Jeff Tweedy penned “Every Step”, Staples continues to impress, as does the production work.  Opening with restraint, the cut evolves, revealing more musical ideas, particularly the gospel-infused backing vocals.  The songwriting Mavis-Staples-10is exceptional, patterned much like a traditional black gospel number (“My lord, he knows me / every step of the way”).  If “Every Step” wasn’t impressive enough, cover “Can You Get To That” (Parliament) is incredibly funky, despite clocking in under three minutes.  As commanding as Staples is, her backing vocals help to give the sensational cut that extra oomph.

Jesus Wept” runs longer than previous cuts, embodying a roots-driven, Americana sound.  Set in six-eight time, like “Every Step”, “Jesus Wept” plays well to Staple’s gospel and soul background.  “Celestial Shores” smartly contrasts the slower tempo of its predecessor, opting for speed and a driving groove.  The combination of electric and acoustic guitars establishes a solid sound, giving Staples the necessary lift she needs.  Standout “What Are They Doing Today in Heaven” is stronger than both “Jesus Wept” and “Celestial Shores”, mixing country and gospel in superb fashion.  Sort of a “One Day At A Time” hybrid cut, Staples sings with ease in her deep contralto.

Mavis-Staples-09Sow Good Seeds” is simple and brief, but compelling  particularly given its use of multiple voices (response vocals) and of course Tweedy’s thoughtful production work. As good as it is to ‘sow good seeds’, it is an electrifying cover of The Staple SingersI Like The Things About Me” that rouses more, thanks to Mavis’s nuanced pipes, a funky production (including distorted guitars), and those tried-and-true backing vocals.  Staples is spiritually resolute on the brief,  penultimate cut “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)” while the title track closes slower and a bit more reverently.  “One True Vine” is lovely, though the inclusion of backing vocals would’ve propelled the number even more.

All in all, One True Vine finds a rock/soul/gospel legend at her best.  Sure she’s a wee bit safe at times, but ultimately, Mavis still got it. Jeff Tweedy does an exceptional job with ensuring Staples has excellent production work to match her musical personality and voice.  At a skinny 35 minutes, One True Vine gives us just enough.

Favorites: “Holy Ghost”; “Every Step”; “Can You Get To That”; “I Like The Things About Me”

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

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