Mavis Staples - If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples
If All I Was Was Black

Mavis Staples doesn't need to prove a goddamn thing to you or I. The woman has been on the forefront of soul music for almost as long as she's been alive creating pioneering a sound with Pops Staples that was transcendent to say the least. At 78 she never stopped touring, never stopped recording but really re-discovered her sound when she teamed up with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy for the past couple of records. If All I Was Was Black arrives at an interesting time, one that is politically charged and for Staples who's music has always been hopeful that hope seems to have faded a bit. On "Who Told You That" Staples lays it out plainly when she says "We don't wanna rock the boat. Who told you that?" as Tweedy's guitar solos in the background. She's tired of people telling her what she should do and who she should be and dismayed at a world where authenticity seems like it's on a downfall. The Staples and Tweedy collaboration has always been an easy one with Jeff reinvigorating Staples' love for creating new music. But, three albums on that train has begun to slow down a bit. They both feel totally comfortable here and like they could have done this record in their sleep. There is almost no risk besides Staples coming off a little more angry than usual. Songs like "Try Harder" give you the sense that being happy today takes a little more than it used to, something that many of Staples' generation refuse to understand but, going through the all she has in terms of political upheaval she clearly has something to say on the subject.

The music of this album is minimal at most, something Tweedy has tried to do with all Mavis Staples records He's worked on, allowing Mavis to shine. On "No Time For Crying" Tweedy keeps things super tight, just one guitar line, a sparse drum kit and maybe a bass burried under there somewhere but it's Mavis who stands out begging her listeners to get up and get active. She asks "You with me?" at the end of the song and it gives you the chills. If a woman is still asking these questions at 78 why can't others in her generation do the same? You get the sense though that Staples' anger actually leads to a better understanding and more compassion. She wants you to get mad, but she also wants you to realize that in the eyes of the divine we are all the same anyway. I guess the album could be a bit more interesting musically, or have Staples try some new things, but why? This is the exact album Tweedy and Staples sought to make and says everything they sought to say. You can tell that's true right away just a very simple album with something important to say, and I think that's just alright.

8.0 out of 10


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