Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black

- If All I Was Was Black is the 16th studio album by legendary gospel/soul singer, Mavis Staples. One of the most eminent singers of all time, Staples has had a staggering career, lasting over half a century. Beginning as part of family band, The Staples Singers, Staples has had a long history of singing about social issues. A stalwart of the civil rights movement, singing protest songs by Bob Dylan and Stephen Stills, Staples is treading in familiar terrain on If All I Was Was Black. Written and produced by Indie rock legend, Jeff Tweedy, the mastermind behind Wilco, Staples’ latest release is resolute a political statement.

The third collaboration with Tweedy, If All I Was Was Black marks the first Mavis Staples album to be entirely written by Tweedy. Despite this input, the songs hold the quintessence of Mavis Staples. Clearly written for Staples’ sensibilities, the songs highlight her soulful voice. However, an astute listener would notice the Tweedy trademarks of bopping bass lines and idiosyncratic guitar solos. It’s a collaboration that is mutually beneficial and one that seems to be getting better with age. Having sung songs written by contemporary songwriters such as Bon IverM. WardNeko Case and Nick Cave on her last album, Staples is as relevant as ever and in no danger of becoming stagnant as an artist.

Heavy on social commentary, the album is adjoined to the current U.S. political climate. Never one to be silenced, Staples doesn’t eschew controversial topics. Opening track, Little Bit conjures news reports of police shootings in America that sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. Despite the heavy subject matter, the album is ostensibly joyful. Jaunty track, No Time For Crying is a call to arms — but Staples chastises violence, instead preaching love. This is decreed on title track If All I Was Was Black, another upbeat, funky number with jovial guitar chords akin to The Jackson 5, where Staples cries “It’s time for love.” It’s a simple message, it’s trite, and it’s cliché — but with Mavis Staples singing it, it has never sounded better.

- Jonathan Cloumassis.


Album Details

Album Title: If All I Was Was Black
Artist: Mavis Staples
Record Label: (ANTI- / Cooking Vinyl)