Kindred spirits: Bettye LaVette,
Show: Friday at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Show starts at 8 p.m. 301-405-2787. www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.
Soul legend Mavis Staples still has plenty of conviction in her hearty, uplifting voice. After six decades in the music business, a stretch that earned her a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her time with the Staples Singers, the gospel maven is still searching for salvation through song.
She found her guide to a career resurgence in 2010, when she teamed with Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy on “You Are Not Alone,” an album for which she won a Grammy. The pair reunites on “One True Vine,” with Tweedy producing and playing all instruments except drums (handled by his son, Spencer).
The album largely tones down gospel’s expected high-energy jubilation. Tweedy keeps the mostly acoustic arrangements sparse, with moods shaded by some of
his familiar weary minor chords and alt-country weirdness. In his original “Every Step,” Staples sings about belief affirmation along with a dark, funky strut accentuated by droning feedback. The old standard “Woke Up This Morning (With My Mind on Jesus)” is reinvented as a hill-country foot stomper that fades to a gritty, distorted guitar solo.
Throughout the album, though, Tweedy’s best move was to never crowd the centerpiece, Staples’s heavy vocals, which ground the songs with genuine emotion. It’s palpable on the cover of Minnesota indie band Low’s “Holy Ghost,” a slow burner about feeling a spiritual presence. In Staples’s care it becomes pure faith in a refreshing artistic package.