The well-worn formula of a legendary artist carving out a respectful late period renaissance is well-worn for a reason. There’s something rather special about hearing such distinctive voices transplanted into the 21st century. Whether it’s Johnny Cash or Solomon Burke, Bobby Womack or Mavis Staples, the results have been remarkably consistent. This is Staples’ second in collaboration with Wilco‘s Jeff Tweedy, although the first passed me by. This release might have too, had it not been for the vociferous enthusing of Ashli from Spillers Records and the album opening with a hymnal cover of ‘Holy Ghost’ from Low‘s ‘The Invisible Way’. The former may have been due, at least in part, to the latter. It’s those word of mouth finds that tend to stick with you. Records entwined in certain memories and born of the excitement of another.
How to do the record justice with a pithy review? Well, Tweedy is something of a sonic sculptor in his day job and thus understands the importance of letting things breathe. ‘One True Vine’ is starkly beautiful, beautifully warm and warmly delivered across its thirty-five minutes. The aforementioned Low cover is a perfect collision of artist and song , the minimal addition of a choir as much garnish as this stunning voice needs. The various covers are played with a straight bat and the respect awarded to these songs is repaid in the results. Funkadelic‘s ‘Can You Get To That’ is remoulded into a soulful acoustic strut, while ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven Today’ wallows gloriously in its sombre state, nudging ahead of the Mogwai take on ‘Les Revenants’ for best version of this song released thus year.
The album’s Tweedy-penned title track is also a beaut, but then there is no fat on this record. It is simultaneously short without being slight. It’s a wonderful demonstration that sometimes great music isn’t about being the first to do something so long as you’re the best. Having said that everything here is noteworthy, one particular track seems to stand above the rest. Staples’ take on Nick Lowe‘s ‘Far Celestial Shore’ is possibly the most spine-tingling three minutes of music committed to vinyl this year. The forthright, almost belligerent delivery of the opening lines “There’s a place I know for certain, I will someday see” sets the tone for a gospel-tinged meditation on the afterlife. It is simply but effective, much like the whole of this truly touching record. Many albums have excited, challenged and thrilled this year, but few have been quite as emotionally resonant as ‘One True Vine’.