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Mavis Staples’ “If I Was Black’ is her best collaboration with Jeff Tweedy yet

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Annie Zaleski

Four stars

Mavis Staples If all I Was Was Black

Much as Rick Rubin oversaw Johnny Cash’s career resurgence, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy has become a sonic shepherd of sorts for Mavis Staples. If All I Was Was Black—the pair’s third collaborative album of the past decade—features the R&B/gospel legend covering songs largely written by Tweedy, who also produced the record. It’s the duo’s best, most vital collection yet. Black’s lyrics allude to today’s divisive political climate and ongoing social upheaval but call on compassion, forgiveness and community to serve as salves. Musically, the project showcases Staples’ velvety, wisdom-exuding voice, as songs encompass funky soul struts (“Who Told You That”), organ-freckled gospel (the sparse “Peaceful Dream”) and gritty rock ’n’ roll (standout “Try Harder”). Staples also wrote lyrics for three songs, and those compositions stress the importance of love while still acknowledging racism and politician deception. “If all I was was black, looking at you/You might look past all the love I give” she says pointedly on the rootsy title track, while on “We Go High,” she admits, “I have a mind to bury them whole, when they go low, to tell you the truth.” Poignant and piercing, If All I Was Was Black stands as one of 2017 must-hear albums.

Tags: Music, Album
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