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‘If All I Was Was Black’ review: Mavis Staples’ thoughtful, subtle album

"If All I Was Was Black" is the latest release by Mavis Staples and her third collaboration with Jeff Tweedy. Credit: Anti-

MAVIS STAPLES

“If All I Was Was Black”

BOTTOM LINE Gospel-R&B great’s political album sounds beautiful, could use more urgency.

Gospel heroine Mavis Staples and her Chicago hometown collaborator, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, decided to make a political album without naming current events — Tweedy has said “Little Bit,” the opening song of “If All I Was Was Black” (Anti-), initially included a roll call of those who’ve recently died due to injustice and police brutality.

On their third album together, Staples and Tweedy aimed for timeless and universal — “No Time for Crying,” a gentle ’70s funk throwback with bursts of Parliament-style guitar, concludes, “We’ve got work to do.” Meanwhile, “We Go High” appropriates Michelle Obama’s 2016 applause line.

The result is a thoughtful, mannered album, full of beautifully subtle singing, but it never finds a roaring, “Freedom Highway”-style protest anthem the times so desperately crave.

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