Anticipation builds for Mavis Staples' new set, produced by Jeff Tweedy

August 10, 2010

"You Are Not Alone" won't officially be released by Anti-Records until Sept. 14, but already it's one of the most anticipated discs of the year: a collaboration between Chicago treasure and soul and gospel legend Mavis Staples and Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy.

Tweedy joined Staples onstage for two songs at Lollapalooza last Friday, and two of the local critics I trust most called the collaboration as well as the rest of Staples' set a highlight of the weekend at Walmart on the Lake. Here's Dave Hoekstra in the Sun-Times:

The set became a tough-to-beat Chicago Lollapalloza moment.‚  On a sunkissed afternoon Staples, her sister Yvonne, their three piece road band (bass, drums, guitar) and two other backing vocalists hit all the right emotive notes.

And here's Greg Kot in the Tribune:

[Lady] Gaga hasn't got anything on Mavis Staples, who threw down in her set with an urgency and passion that belied her 71 years. She was accompanied on a couple of songs by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, but even Tweedy stood humbly in the soul queen's shadow, the force of her performance demanding everyone's attention.

According to the label's advance materials, Tweedy produced the album at Wilco's North Side loft and recording studio. He also wrote several songs for the disc, which is completed by covers of tunes from Creedence Clearwater Revival, Randy Newman, Rev. Gary Davis, New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint, and Mavis' dad, Pop Staples. In addition to Mavis Staples' regular band, Chicago vocal angels Neko Case and Kelly Hogan contribute to the musical backing, as does Wilco multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone.

"For me to still be here and still be wanting to be heard, to have a guy like Jeff Tweedy want to produce me, it just make me feel really good," Staples told the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. Here's hoping the album prompts the reassessment Staples' often underrated career has long been overdue. But thankfully, we don't have to wait to get a taste of what's coming.

And here is a link to a "Tiny Desk Concert" that NPR Music posted yesterday. And here is a video of Tweedy and Staples working at the Wilco loft.