Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Album Review: Mavis Staples - If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples
If All I Was Was Black
**** out of *****

For her eighteenth studio album the legendary Mavis Staples once again teamed up with producer and songwriter Jeff Tweedy. If All I Was Was Black tackles our current political climate and Tweedy addressed this directly when discussing writing songs for the new album:
"I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself—that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on."

Just last year the Staples and Tweedy combined for one of the best records of the 2016 with Livin' on A High Note, but this album digs a bit deeper lyrically while returning to Staples stripped down musical roots. Racial injustice is present from the first smooth funky outing "Little Bit" and continues into the title track. Both support Staples lead vocals with gorgeous backup singing, grooving riffs and excellently cutting electric guitar lead lines. It is a simple and direct formula that isn't messed with much over the course of the album. 

"Who Told You That" gets grittier with both the lyrics and the funk as the song takes a harder edge while "Peaceful Dream" goes back to church with Staples gospel singing, organ and easy acoustic plucking. There is very little to find fault with as the music effortlessly flows from the sweet soul sounds of "Build A Bridge" to the feedback driven "Try Harder"; all songs have a focus on healing humanity and our present day cultural rifts. One minor flaws is there isn't a full fledged anthem to get behind and a track like "No Time For Crying" runs long and never takes off on the record, but will probably be a focus of Staples live sets.

The pair of artists come together for a blissful duet on "Ain't No Doubt About It" that sums up their professional relationship (if not their personal one) in a very easy going straight ahead manner. Tweedy and Staples clicked immediately, knocking it out of the park in 2010 with the Grammy winning You Are Not Alone and have continued to succeed and strive ever since.

Staples late career renaissance is impressive and while her early wok will always soar high, her partnership with Jeff Tweedy has yielded almost as successful results. While If All I Was Was Black is definitely a 2017 record the sounds and (unfortunately the messages sung about) will live on for a long time.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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