If All I Was Was Black (Anti-)
This third meeting between Mavis Staples and Jeff (Wilco) Tweedy turns out to be their most potent collaboration yet, an explicit political statement with 10 new songs the guitarist/producer wrote for the singer and civil rights music icon. The issue of racism in America is front and centre.
It’s hard not to feel echoes of The Staples’ pioneering repertoire from the 1960s, complete with a female backing chorus on most tracks, but Tweedy’s arrangements bring a contemporary edge that straddles gospel traditions with chugging rock and blues grooves, and hints of country twang. There were points I wanted it to break out into a full-throttle funk thing but edgy Americana will do.
The hard-hitting pulse of Who Told You That, No Time For Crying, and Try Harder deliver the best sense of urgency, anger, and frustration that’s bound up in this fight, caught with a full band.
But with a call to action, Staples reminds us that change must happen through peaceful means, with love in your heart on Peaceful Dream. That’s how she’s come this far, age 78, with no regrets, as we hear on the poignant closer All Over Again. It’s a marvellous fight.