On their second collaboration, legendary singer Mavis Staples and Wilco leader Jeff Tweedy have crafted a gospel album for the 21st century, a music that strives for faith in a world where nothing can be taken for granted. On One True Vine, Mavis Staples gives voice to something new in her repertoire, something deeper and more resonant with our times; longtime fans will notice a new reserve in her singing, a muted, plaintive quality that serves the darker, more nuanced songs collected here perfectly. If her Stax hits spoke for a growing black social consciousness, and her seventies collaborations with the Band and others gave spiritual weight to the rediscovery of tradional American music, then in our post-millenial drift, Jeff Tweedy has crafted a pulpit from which Mavis lends her voice to a search for grace.
One True Vine is a dark night of the soul, a journey from a search for faith to glorious belief. Starting with Alan Sparhawk from Low’s downtempo “One Holy Ghost” – a song that feels the presence of God without fully comprehending it – and moving through the Jeff Tweedy original “Jesus Wept,” a questioning of the darkness in the world, the album begins in the depths. Even the perfectly chosen Funkadelic classic “Can You Get to That?,” a high-flying respite in an otherwise subdued first half, is built around a question of the spirit. Then at mid-point, Nick Lowe’s “Far Celestial Shores” picks up the pace, and the album opens up like a parting of the clouds. The tempo kicks in with a tent-revival throb, and even when things slow for a moment with the greasy funk reworking of the Staple’s “I Like the Things About Me,” it’s a second half of light and redemption. Closing with the beautiful ballad “One True Vine” (the third of the Tweedy originals), the album ends on a note of salvation, with Mavis cradling the lyric like a prodigal son.