On Tuesday, legendary gospel soulster Mavis Staples released You Are Not Alone, a new solo album produced by fellow Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, the Wilco frontman who also wrote several original songs for the project.
Mavis Staples rose to success as the female lead in The Staples Singers, the group which featured her sisters and was led by their guitarist father, Pops. Covering pop songs with a message, the family affair rose to become the musical voice of the 1960′s civil rights movement. Later, The Staples Singers turned out legendary Stax sides like “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself,” with Mavis’ unmistakable voice and gritty delivery as the centerpiece, and were rightfully inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Now 71, Mavis has been doing her own thing for decades now, a discography that includes a pair of late ’80s/early ’90s albums for Prince’s Paisley Park label. Those releases brought the funk in a then-contemporary context, but she’s often returned to her traditional spiritual roots. Such is the case on You Are Not Alone, the singer’s third release for ANTI- Records (a label I adore for its commitment to both introducing and re-discovering true artists). Meeting Jeff Tweedy for the first time, Mavis was initially skeptical of his desire to work with her, but his encyclopedic-like knowledge of her family’s musical history and folk-gospel influences quickly convinced her that his interest was absolutely genuine, and that together they could create something quite special.
One of the highlights on You Are Not Alone is a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Wrote A Song For Everyone.” The song first appeared on CCR’s 1969 album, Green River, and 40-plus years on, the mid-tempo tune sounds fresh and relevant, thanks to the Staples-Tweedy partnership. The album version is outstanding, but I’ve chosen to highlight a simple acoustic take here, just Mavis’ voice paired with Tweedy’s guitar, a performance that demonstrates the depth of their personal and artistic bond. Hear here:
Mavis Staples isn’t the only artist currently covering CCR. Guitar Heaven, the all-star album from Santana coming out on Tuesday, features “Fortunate Son” (with vocals by Creed’s Scott Stapp) as a bonus track on the Deluxe Edition.