The Cosmic American

Pops Staples' recording career came full 'circle' on 2015 Jeff Tweedy produced 'Don't Lose This'


In 2014, Johnny Cash’s son oversaw the release of Out Among the Stars, an album Cash recorded in the ’80s that somehow got lost. The dated production was smoothed out, and former Cash son-in-law Marty Stuart added guitar and mandolin. It was one of the year’s most endearing releases, a testament to Cash’s legend and the transcendence of country music.


If there is a Johnny Cash of gospel music, it is Pops Staples. On Don’t Lose This, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer put finishing touches on the album he was working on before he died in 2000. 


Like Out Among the Stars, it is a beautiful reminder of Staples’ untouchable soul and genius, an essential album of gospel that, beyond the cliché, they actually don’t make ’em like anymore.


Pops’ beautiful tremolo guitar is front and center on the album, as it should be. Sometimes it’s his only accompaniment, as on “Sweet Home” and “Better Home” (both duets with daughter Mavis Staples). This approach is used to its fullest effect on a haunting cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s seminal 1927 recording “Nobody’s Fault but Mine.” Gospel at its most chilling.


“Somebody’s Watching” and “No News is Good News” features an added full band. They occasionally get in the way, but Pops’ soul and the conviction of his vocals still shine through. Spencer Tweedy probably should have laid off the double kick fills, but that’s a minor complaint.


The album ends with a couple covers, a live version of Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” and a simple, affecting take on old folk/country gospel standard “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” On the latter, the unity of white and black rural music, especially spiritual, is on full display.


Don’t Lose This, like Out Among the Stars, is an unearthed treasure from one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. 


Article originally released on RamblingOn.Net

Erik Ritland is a songwriter and journalist from Nashville, Tennessee. He's released 13 records and EPs, most recently 2021's innovative movie album Old Dog Almost Gone. His journalism has been featured on Something Else! Reviews, Music in Minnesota, and more, and his articles have been shared by members of bands as diverse as KISS, the Monkees, Son Volt, and Low Cut Connie.