The steady number boasts a simmering mix of subtle percussion, limber bass and dreamy guitar, while Staples delivers a delicate vocal performance that crackles at the edges. Her lyrics are potent, vivid and politically charged, while still striving towards uplift and inclusiveness: “When I say my life matters,” she sings, “You can say yours does too/ But I betcha never have to remind anyone/ To look at it from your point of view.”
If All I Was Was Black follows Staples’ 2016 solo LP, Livin’ on a High Note, and marks her third collaboration with Tweedy, following 2010’s You Are Not Alone and 2013’s One True Vine. Along with “Build a Bridge,” Staples previously shared the album’s title track and another song, “Little Bit.”
In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Staples spoke about how If All I Was Was Black was inspired by the current political climate and recalls the social-justice anthems she sang with the Staple Singers at the height of the Civil Rights movement. “So many young boys are being stopped by the police and being killed,” she said. “We’ve got a man in the White House that is urging this stuff on, and he’s brought on a rebirth of bigotry and hate. This world … I just don’t know. I just stop myself and wonder, ‘What is going on?’ I’ve been doing some extra praying. We need it. We need it bad.”
Staples has a string of shows opening for Bob Dylan throughout November, though she’ll close the month with a handful of solo concerts, including a five-night stand at the Beacon Theater in New York City. She’ll embark on another solo tour January 24th at the Flynn Center in Burlington, Vermont.