CD review: Mavis Staples – One True Vine
For the second installment of Mavis Staples’ Tweedyville sessions on Anti records, the 74 year old gospel funkatrix sounds a bit more subdued than she did on the initial 2010 Jeff Tweedy-produced outing, You Are Not Alone. On that first one, Mavis sounded more like way the she did with daddy Pops in the Staples Singers’ heyday, Tweedy emulating Pops‘ tremelo–soaked guitar on several cuts, capturing his essence perfectly on “Don’t Knock.” Mavis was ebullient and upbeat throughout that release, celebrating her funky gospel roots with a verve and power.
Her voice is still powerful on the follow up, even when she’s moaning softly on the opening cut, “Holy Ghost,” transforming the rather thinly voiced original by drummer Mimi Parker from the band Low, which Tweedy also produced, from a whiny country song into a powerful hymn (see videos below).
Tweedy captures Pops’ guitar sound once again on the intro to “Every Step” before settling into a Mississippi hill country drone. It’s another another low key moaner for Mavis, who still gets in a few passionate gospel grunts here and there.
Nobody but Mavis would be able to reconfigure a Funkadelic song into a gospel mode, but her phrasing and soulful work at the top of “Can You Get To That” turns it into a pulsating anthem of praise for communicating with a higher power. But after setting the tone, Mavis doesn’t do much. The funk and punch, and the rest of the vocals come from the backing choir and Donny Gerrard’s bassment underpinnings, Mavis bleeding through faintly with a few gospel tinged shouts as the song fades out.
Mavis sounds like she’s just about ready to cut loose throughout Nick Lowe’s “Far Celestial Shore” but never comes out of first gear, coasting along smoothly for a satisfying, but uneventful ride.
But by the time she gets to Pops’ “I Like The Things About Me,” she’s looming large in the pulpit as she ruminates on what time has done to her image when she looks in the mirror. “I done reached the ṗoint where I wanna be real,” Staples proclaims soulfully. “I’m tired of living in disguise/I like the things about me that I once despised.”
“Woke Up This Morning(With My Mind On Jesus”) is what we’ve come to expect from the Staples name, sexy gospel funk but with a twist courtesy of Tweedy’s fuzzy psychedelic guitar adding a rattly country style overlay to the proceedings.
Mavis Staples doesn’t make bad records. Some just have a bit more gospel fire and verve than others. This one will do nicely if you’re in the mood for meditation, but it would still be nice to hear the old girl kick out the jams with Jesus all the way through a record one more time.
By Grant Britt