Staples fronted the performance with subtle elegance, belting politically charged lines over a soulful, gospel-tinged groove. “When I say my life matters/ You can say yours does too,” she sang. “But I betcha never have to remind anyone/ To look at it from your point of view.”
Tweedy backed the singer with a series of reverb-saturated electric guitar leads, adding his falsetto to a massive group of backing vocalists. Jon Batiste, leader of the Late Show house band Stay Human, added funky Wurlitzer accents throughout.
If All I Was Was Black – which follows Staples’ 2016 solo album, Livin’ on a High Note – marks the vocalist’s 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 two other songs from the LP, the title-track and “Little Bit.”
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Staples and Tweedy noted that the current, turbulent political climate inspired If All I Was Was Black. “Mavis was really surprisingly OK with sounding angry,” the Wilco songwriter said of their sessions. “It’s the first time since we started working together where there’s been a righteous anger that she’s been comfortable with.”