Like Rick Rubin did with Johnny Cash's American Recordings series, Jeff Tweedy's production work for Mavis Staples grabs the true essence of a legendary artist and renders it as vital as ever.
And like the best from the Rubin-Cash collaborations, One True Vine comes across as an effortlessly synthesized vision, presenting Staples' uncompromising gospel-soul voice with spare, emotionally charged arrangements.
Staples' late-career resurgence that began with 2007's Ry Cooder-produced We'll Never Turn Back blooms strongest on spiritual songs, like One True Vine opener "Holy Ghost," which she simultaneously renders personal and universal. Staples' rich and sage voice carries so much in the way of compassion, wisdom and sincerity that it's impossible not to fall under her spell.
As with 2010's Grammy-winning You Are Not Alone, Tweedy's contributions are subtle, even as he handles most of the instruments himself.
The album's most surprisingly successful track is a cover of Funkadelic's 1971 "Can You Get To That," a spry and jangly throwback tune that makes the most of Staples' backup singers. The album peaks with "One True Vine" (originally a Sky Blue Sky-era bonus song from Wilco), which Staples turns into an uplifting hymn.
One True Vine is without the sort of obvious singles that carried its predecessor—"You Are Not Alone" and the Creedence Clearwater Revival cover "Wrote a Song for Everyone"—but it's ultimately a more subtle, varied and powerful album.