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CD: Mavis Staples - One True Vine | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Mavis Staples - One True Vine

CD: Mavis Staples - One True Vine

Rousing gospel threatened by lurking blandness

Gospel veteran with a powerful voice

Mavis Staples keeps on comin': with a contralto voice soaked in gospel and soul, she delivers consistently heart-warming music.

This is her second collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, a rocker with enough knowledge and taste to create a contemporary ambience in which Mavis can deliver classics such Washington Phillips’s spine-chilling religious classic “What are They Doing in Heaven Today” alongside Funkadelic’s secular lament “Can You Get to That”.

Mavis grew up under her father’s musical and spiritual guidance: Pops was a Mississippi man, from the same plantations that gave us Charley Patton and Son House. The blues and gospel that grew up in the South came from a tradition that goes back to pre-slavery Africa, where music was always meant, as the Manding griots say “to give you courage”. The Staples Singers moved seamlessly between religion and politics and provided a radicalising soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement. Mavis continues to use her voice to encourage us to listen, to fight and to be thankful too.

The new album sticks to the award-winning formula of You Are Not Alone, her first Grammy-winning collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. There are no big surprises and a few tracks feel a little too smooth and well-rehearsed, perhaps not surprisingly as her producer plays all the instruments, except the drums. Gospel shines when it's live and although the production values on this album are high and the setting never upstages the star, with Mavis in as fine a voice as ever, a certain blandness inevitably lurks.

The well-tried formula (Bobby Womack's Damon Albarn-curated album comes to mind) whereby a younger musician produces one of the distinguished elders often works well – and it is great that it happens. But give me a track off one of the recent great gospel compilations - Fire in My Bones or Goodbye Babylon - any time: there is a rawness there which goes with being a true witness to the the ecstasy at the heart of this rousing music.

Mavis continues to use her voice to encourage us to listen, to fight and to be thankful too


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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