She’ll take you there Though now on the far side of 70, Mavis Staples remains one of American music’s national treasures, with a smoldering voice that’s as compelling today as it was 40 years ago on Staple Singers’ hits like “Respect Yourself. ” Likely the only singer whose resume includes collaborations with Curtis Mayfield, Bob Dylan and Prince, she affirmed her vitality on 2007’s We’ll Never Turn Back, produced by Ry Cooder. This time around, Jeff Tweedy is the lucky guy at the helm, and he’s done Staples justice, giving the album throwback flourishes and a modern aesthetic.
An artsy Americana-?inclined dude helps reclaim the hipster cred of a decades-older soul singer: It worked with Joe Henry and Bettye LaVette, and the template generates stellar results again with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy producing 71-year-old gospel great Mavis Staples. You Are Not Alone is mostly invigorating gospel, though he somehow got her to apply that mighty rasp to the saddest song ever, Randy Newman’s ”Losing You.” A? Download These:Allen Toussaint’s rollicking Last Train at amazon.comThe warm Tweedy-penned title track You Are Not Alone at amazon.com See all of this week’s reviews .
Mavis Staples has a mighty voice. Even into her 70s, she still has dynamic range that goes from a full-throated shout to an intimate whisper without losing her easy authority over a song. Over the decades, many musicians and producers have tried to wrangle that voice onto record, with varying degrees of success. With her father, Pops Staples, she recorded a string of songs that combined gospel and folk music, many of which-- "Respect Yourself" and the sublime "(If You're Ready) Come Go with Me"-- became hits that soundtracked the tumultuous civil rights movement.
Mavis Staples may not have a voice with the kind of range and pure power of an Aretha Franklin, but she understands the ins and outs of phrasing and nuance, and brings an inimitable, gritty passion to everything she sings, even into her seventies. She's also not afraid to walk right down the middle of the road between secular and sacred, fully aware that both the blues and gospel are really talking about the same thing -- the need to get to a better place. She performs this delicate synthesis well on You Are Not Alone, an album that finds her teamed with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, whose production on this project is surprisingly sympathetic to Staples' strengths, and more importantly, doesn't make her sound like an adjunct participant in a Wilco album.
For most artists or bands that are lucky enough to turn their art into a full-time job, there usually comes a period where an album is released for the sake of releasing an album. The most likely culprit for this is the need to fulfill a recording contract. But in other cases, it could just to keep the momentum rolling. In many cases, these albums sound just like the circumstances in which they were recorded—albums that had to be made as opposed to albums that needed to be made.
Gospel legend Mavis Staples follows her critically acclaimed 2007 Ry Cooder produced album, We’ll Never Turn Back, with another compelling effort produced by a rock star with roots credibility. With Wilco mastermind Jeff Tweedy deftly handling production duties, You Are Not Alone never strays from its “you can pull through” message, but it manages to do so without seeming preachy or trite. Staples’ voice has aged remarkably well, and the rasps and crackles come in all the right places, especially on the Tweedy-penned title track and the bluesy “Last Train.” Despite reaching her eighth decade, Staples is making music that is strikingly modern, but the defining concept of the album is timeless: unadulterated hope.