(Photo: Chris Stong)
On Sunday night, Mavis Staples will open the sold-out Bob Dylan show at the Palace Theatre.
We don’t deserve the musical marriage between legendary soul singer Mavis Staples and alt-country superstar Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) but I’m awfully glad the two have seen fit to collaborate on three albums including Staples’ latest, If All I Was Was Black (Anti- Records), hitting store shelves and online outlets on November 17. Subtle, yet strong, the album is one of the most socially and politically relevant releases of 2017 with Tweedy writing lyrics from Staple’s perspective as an African-American entertainer who has experienced more in her seven decades of performing than most of us ever will.
Though subject matter is heavy, Tweedy supplies a smooth groove to compliment Staples’ soulful vocals and it’s hard not to listen without a smile. And it’s an absolute thrill to hear the two share vocals on “Ain’t No Doubt About It” which sounds like a Wilco song written and recorded in Memphis.
Police brutality, especially involving men of color, is addressed head-on on the a
album’s opening track, “Little Bit”. “This life surrounds you / Guns are loaded / This kind of tension / Hard not to notice / Right? / Do what you’re told,” Staples sings.
And while politicians and their sycophants are trying to tear the nation apart, Staples looks for the bright side – “We go high, when they go / I know they don’t know, what they’re doing / When they tell their lies, spread around rumors / I know they’re still human, they need my love” (on “We Go High”)
If there’s anything to take away from If All I Was Was Black, it’s the sentiment shared in the funky 9th track, “Try Harder” – “Gotta try hard / Don’t do me no good to pretend / Don’t do me no good to give in”. Maybe we all should try harder.