by Erik Ritland
Rambling On is a seriously fun blog and podcast covering sports, music, culture, and more. Check us out on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, or at our website.
Don't Lose This (dBpm 2015)
Essential tracks: "Somebody Was Watching," "Nobody's Fault But Mine," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken"
In 2014, Johnny Cash’s son oversaw the release of Out Among the Stars, an album Cash had 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 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 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 music, is on full display.
Don’t Lose This, like Out Among the Stars, is an unearthed treasure from one of the most important musicians of the 20th century.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. His blog and podcast Rambling On features commentary on music, sports, culture, and more. He was also Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blog Curious North. Support Erik's music via his Patreon account, reach him via email, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.