One of the coolest albums of 2015 so far also has one of the coolest stories behind it. Before Roebuck “Pops” Staples, the patriarch of the iconic Staples Singers, passed away in 2000, he gave his daughter Mavis a record which contained “Pops” singing and playing guitar. While in his final days, “Pops” told Mavis to look after the record he recorded, telling Mavis, “Please don’t lose this.”
Nearly 15 years later, after the success of Mavis Staples’ Jeff Tweedy-produced records You Are Not Alone and One True Vine, Mavis felt that it was time to revisit the album her father had given her in 2000. With the help of Tweedy and his son Spencer, Mavis was able to add harmonies and simple arrangements to fill-out the bare-bones record “Pops” had recorded in 2000, releasing the aptly titled, “Don’t Lose This.”
The brilliance of “Don’t Lose This” is equal parts “Pops” and his spirit-filled songs, delivering laid back yet powerful guitar arrangements and the work of Jeff and Spencer Tweedy alongside Mavis Staples. Tweedy and Mavis spruced up the “Pops” recording with simple yet brilliant arrangements often times with just bass, drums and background and vocals. A great example of this minimalistic touch can be heard in the opening track, a cover of Brenda Burns’ “Somebody Was Watching” where Spencer Tweedy lays down a simple groove over “Pops’” swampy guitar riffs while Mavis adds harmony to fill out the chorus of her father’s take on the Delta gospel anthem. The record is a mix of “Pops” originals including “No News is Good News” and “Friendship” while also displaying strong takes on gospel standards, “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” and Bob Dylan’s flirt with Christianity in “Gotta Serve Somebody.”
Like the final records of Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon, this posthumous release is a look into a legend with a limited amount of time putting down some of their favorite tracks before giving it up for the man in the sky. The love and care that Mavis and Tweedy put into bringing the album to life can be heard in the finesse of adding powerful arrangements while being careful not to take away from “Pops” soulful and heartfelt final contribution to the American music history book.