There is a new record by Mavis Staples released today (June 25th). “One True Vine” is a 2nd collaboration with Jeff Tweedy off of Wilco, the best band in the USA. Like 2010’s “You Are Not Alone” the song selection is marked by taste of the highest order. This time there are 3 songs by Tweedy, covers of both Low & Nick Lowe & some re-imagined soul & gospel classics.
“I Like The Things About Me” is a song co-written by Pops Staples & was originally sung by the Staples’ patriarch. This time around Mavis takes the lead & the chiming guitar is replaced by a fuzzy bass line. The LP was recorded at Wilco’s Chicago studio & Tweedy plays almost all the instruments, leaving the drums to his son Spencer. Ms Staples made a record with Ry Cooder in 2007 which showed her passion & authority to be undiminished. “We’ll Never Turn Back” is a polished, assured take on some well-known songs. J.B. Lenoir’s “Down In Mississippi” becomes, through her voice, the most accurate comment on the institutionalised racism of the US Government’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina.
Any of the adjectives used about “We’ll Never…” are going to be good ones but it becomes a little worthy or formulaic if it is repeated. Mavis is an icon but is not ready for a museum yet. The records Mavis Staples is making with Jeff Tweedy show imagination in the song choice & their arrangements. Whatever Mavis sings is going to sound great but she is not a soul belter. Pops knew that she resonated most when space was left & Tweedy is the very man for the job. This is not music that seeks your immediate attention but slides soothingly under your skin.
Well, what a great call to record “Can You Get To That” from Funkadelic’s 3rd momentous LP “Maggot Brain”. A gospel inflected song of affirmation, maybe Mavis & her family group should have gotten hold of this George Clinton jam back in 1971. It is a song written for a gang of voices &, on this TV appearance, Mavis gives it up to her fellow singers which is precisely what is required. “Can You Get To That” is just one of my favourite songs from the P-Funk, a last tip back to the Parliaments & the sixties before getting on with the very modern things they had to do. To hear this revival by Mavis just cheer me no end…my song of the next few weeks.
Mavis & Jeff Tweedy did a similar thing last time around when another of the long-time, all-time jewels was given the treatment.
Mavis Staples is 74 next month & I hope that there will be a bunch more of these records to appreciate. There will always be a religious element in any of her LPs, it is what she has been doing for over 60 years & it is what she does better than anyone else. Jeff Tweedy is proving to be a sympathetic & subtle partner who is helping Mavis to make this lovely modern, mature music.The 2010 record was awarded the Grammy for the Best Americana Record. It was her first such award, “It;s been a long time coming” said a tearful Mavis. This time she may not be so shocked.