Legendary soul singer Mavis Staples addresses the country’s social climate head-on with her new album, “If All I Was Was Black,” out on Nov. 17. The album is her third collaboration with songwriter-producer and Wilco founder Jeff Tweedy.
Hear the album’s title track, which features lyrics written by Staples and music by Tweedy, below.
The song’s lyrics emphasize the positive — “If all I was was black, don’t you want to know me more than that?” — but there’s no question about the angle of the album.
“We’re not loving one another the way we should,” she says in a press release announcing the album. “Some people are saying they want to make the world great again, but we never lost our greatness. We just strayed into division.”
Staples brings an uncommon perspective to the challenges facing the country today: The Staple Singers, a gospel/soul group formed by her father Roebuck in the 1950s, was associated with social causes for decades via songs like “Long Walk to D.C.,” “When Will We Be Paid,” “I’ll Take You There” and “Respect Yourself.” Mavis, 78, was essentially the group’s lead singer.
Her new albums 10 songs are “about contemporary America today, a present day filled with ghosts of the past,” the release says. “Nothing has changed,” Staples says. “We are still in it.” The lyrics reflect those sentiments: “I have a mind to bury them whole, when they go low,” she sings on “We Go High.” “Try Harder” opens with the words, “There’s evil in the world, and there’s evil in me,” while “Who Told You That” containes the verse, “They lie, and they show no shame.”
For his part, Tweedy says, “I’ve always thought of art as a political statement in and of itself—that it was enough to be on the side of creation and not destruction. But there is something that feels complicit at this moment in time about not facing what is happening in this country head on.”
As if to drive the album’s theme home, Mavis will join her longtime friend Bob Dylan for a series of North American dates beginning in October.
“If All I Was Was Black” Track Listing
- Little Bit
- If All I Was Was Black
- Who Told You That
- Ain’t No Doubt About It (feat. Jeff Tweedy)
- Peaceful Dream
- No Time For Crying
- Build A Bridge
- We Go High
- Try Harder
- All Over Again
On tour with Bob Dylan:
10/17 Eccles Theater. Salt Lake City, UT
10/18 Eccles Theater. Salt Lake City, UT
10/21 1st Bank Center. Denver, CO
10/23 Century Link Center. Omaha, NE
10/24 Stephens Auditorium. Ames, IA
10/25 Xcel Energy Center. St Paul, MN
10/27 Wintrust Arena. Chicago, IL
10/28 Van Andel Arena. Grand Rapids, MI
10/29 IU Auditorium. Bloomington, IN
11/1 Fox Theater. Detroit, MI
11/3 EJ Thomas Hall. Akron, OH
11/5 Palace Theater. Columbus, OH
11/6 Peterson Events Center. Pittsburgh, PA
11/8 Nassau Coliseum. Uniondale, NY
11/10 Coliseum. Richmond, VA
11/11 Tower Theatre. Philadelphia, PA
11/12 Tower Theatre. Philadelphia, PA
11/14 The Anthem. Washington, DC
11/16 Agannis Arena. Boston, MA