Mavis Staples

You Are Not Alone
Mavis Staples

Faced with the formidable task of following her own recent successes, the queen of gospel music teamed with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and scored another artistic bull’s eye.

Producer Tweedy wisely used the trio that has been Staples’ touring unit in the wake of 2007’s stripped down We’ll Never Turn Back (featured on 2008’s Live: Hope At The Hideout) – guitarist Rick Holmstrom, bassist Jeff Turmes, and drummer Stephen Hodges. What augmentation there is (Patrick Parenti’s keyboards, Tweedy’s acoustic, some background vocals) is tasteful and unobtrusive.
Likewise, Tweedy contributes three of the songs without the album turning into “Staples Does Tweedy.”
Indeed, the title track (featuring a soulful, economical Holmstrom solo), “Creep Along Moses” (with Holmstrom getting more aggressive), and “Only The Lord Knows” (recalling the soul groove of the Staple Singers’ ’70s hits) are perfectly suited for Mavis.

The cover choices are equally winning. “In Christ There Is No East Or West” is probably better known as a fingerpicking instrumental (by John Fahey, Leo Kottke, and others), so it’s nice to hear the lyrics for once. John Fogerty’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone” is reminiscent of the Staples’ Last Waltz rendition of “The Weight,” while “Last Train” sticks close to Allen Toussaint’s Southern Nights version. Little Milton’s hit “We’re Gonna Make It” becomes a duet with soul crooner Donny Gerrard, and Rev. Gary Davis’ spirited “I Belong To The Band” is sure to raise the hair on the back of your neck. Both are propelled by stinging solos from Holmstrom, who wisely opts for the late Roebuck “Pops” Staples’ tremolo on Randy Newman’s “Losing You,” which, in Mavis’ hands, resembles “He Knows How Much We Can Bear.” And Pops’ “Downward Road” provides a highlight in a set filled with them.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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