Gospel legend and civil rights icon Mavis Staples is still turning heads with her stunning new album of spirituals, One True Vine. Rolling Stone described it as “gorgeous.” The Washington Post called the project “pure faith in a refreshing artistic package,” and the Chicago Tribuneconcluded it reaffirmed Staples’ place “as one of the great voices of the last half-century.”
Staples first gained fame with her family band The Staple Singers, who traveled with Martin Luther King Jr. and became the sound of the civil rights movement. She launched a diverse solo career, collaborating with artists such as Prince, Bob Dylan, and others in multiple genres. Recently, she returned to her roots. So what has so beguiled the press into crowing over these gospel tidings?
From the first notes of One True Vine, Staples’ voice plunges the listener into a rich earth that envelops and swallows one whole. Credit also the brilliant production of Jeff Tweedy, better known as the front man for alternative-rock band Wilco. Tweedy captures the lower regions of Staples’ vocal range, mining veins of texture and nuance. This collaboration is Staples’ second with Tweedy. The first one, the jubilant You Are Not Alone, won a Grammy in 2010. One True Vine, though, is an abrupt change in direction. It’s not the upbeat, high-energy side of gospel but the slow-burning, brooding side.