Review: Mavis Staples and Producer Jeff Tweedy Fight the Powers That Be

Our take on 'If All I Was Was Black,' the latest from the legendary Staples Singers vocalist

Mavis Staples' 16th studio album is 'If All I Was Was Black'

The gospel-soul icon's third set with producer-collaborator Jeff Tweedy shows his touch more prominently than ever: For the first time he's penned all the songs (including three co-writes with Staples), recording them with his son Spencer, Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche and various Chicago multitaskers. The result is an object lesson in collaborative activism, with Staples tilting away from Sixties R&B formalism but doubling down on topicality. "This life surrounds you/The guns are loaded" she declares on the opener, "Little Bit," detailing the terrorized mindset in black communities that police violence normalizes, with razor-wire guitar tones bursting like thrown bottles across a stuttered funk groove. The title track extends a hand over the wall of prejudice, while "Try Harder" is her mea culpa, a Civil Rights heroine admitting her own flaws but determined, at 78, to keep on pushing.