Jeff Tweedy is totally in service to The Queen here: Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Famer Mavis Staples, 71, growls, cajoles, pleads, croons, testifies, rocks and stomps her way through 13 well thought out gems. Tweedy, as producer/instrumentalist/composer, picked out these tunes, serving Staples well in the process, making her sound better than ever in an organic acoustic setting that lets her shine. And shine she does! There’s almost no describing her guttural bottomless pit of a voice, a voice that can bring worlds of meaning to each drawn-out syllable.
Staples has been on a role of late. Her 2007 Civil Rights album, We’ll Never Turn Back, was one of that year’s best. Her 2009 live album, Hope At The Hideout, had fellow Chicago-native Tweedy in the crowd vowing he’d work with her.
To that end, he’s couched her soul within an acoustic folk-rock setting with tasty instrumental fills that perfectly accentuate her lusty fervor. The fact that her passion is reserved for the Lord here and not a man makes no difference. It’s a palpable grabber nevertheless.
Make no mistake about it: this is a gospel album, period. It contains great covers of Randy Newman (“Losing You”), Allen Toussaint (“Last Train”) and John Fogerty (“Wrote A Song For Everyone”) as well as Pops Staples (her late father), Reverend Gary Davis (the blind blues singer/guitarist), some old-time traditionals that Tweedy has arranged beautifully and two new Tweedy originals.
Who knew the Wilco guy had this in him?