One True Vine is the new studio album from legendary gospel singer Mavis Staples. I've been a huge fan of The Staple Singers for a long time, they were a very influential group in the early 60's and into the mid 70's, Robbie Robertson of The Band was deeply influenced by the group in the mid 60's. Mavis has produced a quality solo career working with the likes of Prince and Ry Cooder, her new album is the second to be produced by Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.
One True Vine is one of those albums that make you glad to be a music fan, it's an album that is a deeply felt expression of faith, love and honesty. Set against a backdrop of bare instrumentation that allows plenty of space for the vocals to permeate, Mavis fills every song with an understated intensity, the passion and forthrightness are present, she just knows how to sing a song. Holy Ghost penned by Alan Sparhawk from the band Low is an indicative opener, focusing on the mysteriousness of spirituality,
Some holy ghost keeps me hangin on
I feel the hands but I don't see anyone
Every Step of the way is grounded in an unshakeable faith, the opening guitar break sounds like Pop Staples but then it opens up into something that is pure Wilco, lo fi and distorted it adds a dark ambience to the song which gives it an added sense of desperation. Can You Get To That is a cover of a Funkadelic track, but in the hands of Mavis Staples it has that old familiar Staples Singers feel,
When you base your love on credit
And your loving days are done
Checks you signed with love and kisses
Later come back signed insufficient funds
Jesus Wept is one of three Jeff Tweedy compositions and it's a highlight of the album, Mavis has an ache in her voice as she sings of lost love, Mavis has always had the ability to convey sorrow as well as hope, she is truly a unique singer. The deeply moving Far Celestial Shore is from the Nick Lowe songbook, it's an optimistic ode to the afterlife, the shores of the afterlife always bring out a joyous tone in her voice.
There's a place I know for certain
I will someday see
When I lay down my burden
And look on Galilee
Way beyond the surly bonds of earth and hate an war
On a far celestial shore.
What Are They Doing They're Now questions what those who are gone are doing now in heaven, after the sorrow and heartbreak of life, what next? I Like The Things About Me was a song penned by Pop Staples and has that familiar ideal that our true vital and honest beauty is the most precious one, any attempts to change it are a falsehood that will only cause pain. The title track closes the album on an exultant note, the feeling of being saved in the face of the fire. This is an album that should be treasured, it's an album where you can hear the bond between singer and producer, the trust that Mavis has in Jeff Tweedy can be heard on the album, it's up there for album of the year for me.