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Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

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Soul and gospel icon pairs up again with Jeff Tweedy for another high quality outing.

Image of Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black

(Anti- Records, out 17 Nov 2017)

In last year’s retrospective film Mavis, the famous Ms Staples spoke fondly of her work with producer (and Wilco man) Jeff Tweedy. So it’s no surprise the pair have teamed up again on this, her fifteenth solo studio album.

Also evident from that documentary was just how much musical fire still burns within her as she heads towards her eightieth birthday. That mojo is all over this record too.

The tracks alternate between brooding blues and uplifting soul, as have been the Staples family’s… ahem… staples through the years. Think Respect Yourself vs I’ll Take You There. That same shift in style happens as opener Little Bit gives way to track two (the title track), and so on through the album. Who Told You That? is sketchily-riffed dark gospel, Ain’t No Doubt About It a slab of perky country-soul. Try Harder is a gristly blues mea culpa, All Over Again a gently soulful acoustic closer.

There’s the same duality in the lyrics. Mavis was there in the heat of the civil rights movement in the 60s, and she’s not stopping that fight now, not when the same problems are being faced. “Poor kid, they caught him / Without his licence / That ain’t why they shot him / They say he was violent,” she sings on Little Bit. But the grim reality of Trump America is always leavened by a dose of positivity. Her gospel roots mean there’s always love and hope in the house. “Come and share my peaceful dream,” she invites on a song of the same name.

Staples/Tweedy, like Cash/Rubin and Dr John/Auerbach, has proved a very productive match-up of elder statesperson and younger, fashionable producer. This album may lack a showstopper, but it’s consistently high quality and Staples has still got a lot to teach the younger generation. On Peaceful Dream: “I may never know what broke those chains / If I don’t pass it on, it won’t last”. Long may magnificent Mavis continue to pass it on.

 

/ @peaky76


Robert is the Managing Editor of The Wee Review and has been writing for the site since early 2014. Previously, he was manager of the Yorkshire arts website, digyorkshire. He pays bills by working for a palliative care charity and lives in Edinburgh.

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