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Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

Dan Webb

An astounding sixty-seven years into a celebrated career, veteran soul/gospel singer Mavis Staples shows no signs of slowing down on her latest release, If All I Was Was Black. Having teamed up with Gorillaz & Pusha T earlier in the year for “Let Me Out”, Staples again opts to collaborate with a contemporary artist, this time in Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. Tweedy serves admirably as producer and sole songwriter for the majority of the album (with a few songs co-written by Staples).

This album unashamedly tackles the systemic prejudice and racism which Staples has witnessed and been subjected to as a black woman throughout her career, and which has reared its ugly head into open, mainstream dialogue in recent times.

Opener “Little Bit” is an incredibly catchy number, driven by simple yet effective drums and a double tracked electric guitar riff. Warmth is a noticeable, defining quality of this album right from the outset, both in Staple’s vocal delivery and in Tweedy’s production. “It’s time for more love”, Staples pleads on the somewhat-surprisingly joyous title track. Tweedy’s guitar playing shines with another well-crafted riff on “Who Told You That”.

“No time for tears, we’ve got work to do”, the singer pronounces on “No Time For Crying”, a rallying call for anyone displeased with the current US political climate. “We Go High” is an overt reference to the infamous Michelle Obama speech.

Despite the heavy subject matter, If All I Was Was Black is presented in a light, easy-going manner. This makes for a highly enjoyable listen which is perhaps well-suited for a pensive summer road trip.