It's a bit of a knotty concept, but here's the gist of it: Producers Ashley Beedle and Darren Morris, inspired by an early-'70s track by soul/gospel icon Mavis Staples (her version of Burt Bacharach's "A House Is Not a Home"), write and produce their own instrumental track as a tribute. They then solicit 11 different songwriter/vocalists to write their own lyrics and melodies, which are then turned into 11 original compositions based around—but not exactly faithful to—their original backing track, all as a tribute to Mavis Staples.
The recipients of this conceptual largesse include soul/disco/gospel star Candi Staton, Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell, Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, Edwyn Collins, British singer Ed Harcourt and six others. The result is a supremely mellow, beautifully composed series of loosely connected tracks that live and breathe soulfulness, à la Mavis. Most everything is strong, but there are definite highlights. John Turrell's "What You Looking For" brings trip-hoppy, jazzy atmospherics to play. Cerys Matthews' "Nemesis Required" is a lovely, soulful track with a great vocal hook. Staton's "Revolution" is sexy, orchestral down-tempo funk. Kurt Wagner's "Gangs of Rome" is a lush, overripe peach of a track with his unmistakable combination of the possibly sinister and the pastoral—smooth on the surface but quietly seething with ambiguity and intrigue.
As tributes go, Mavis is a true oddity, but it works. Beedle and Morris couldn't have picked a better subject.