Mavis Staples ‘If All I Was Was Black‘ (Anti-) 4/5

For the best part of 60 years, the Staple Singers have performed the task of being black America’s conscience, tackling all the sensitive subjects like race, slavery, injustice and all the aspects of love and hate, all with gospel fervour. In most people’s mind they hit the big time in the 70’s when they landed at Stax Records and had million dollar seller’s like “I’ll take you there”, but in truth they were more than that and throughout the lifetime of the group the vocals of Mavis have been a constant comfort. To my ears her finest moment just has to be her crushing “If it wasn’t for a woman”, a searing ballad of such epic proportions, deliberately limiting the playing of it so I don’t get fed up of hearing it, not that there’s much chance of that.

Today the voice has mellowed and she appears to be less angry, like most of us as we get older, but she’s still addressing the injustices that permeate society today. This isn’t the traditional soul album, in fact her last album and this have taken a slightly more folk angle, lyrically it makes you stop and listen intently, I suppose you could call this a thinking man’s album as it does just that, it challenges the way you look at every day stuff. “Who told you that” is so relevant today in this world of fake news and false information, the toe tapper, “Aint no doubt about it”, might make the odd brave radio jock’s playlist, but I seriously doubt you will hear too much off this album on any UK soul radio show any time soon. The use of a fuzz guitar isn’t an instrument you hear too often in the soul music world but you do get used to it. “We go high” is very reminiscent of past album tracks and is a genuine nod to her past musically, the track that has had repeat plays is the mellow stroller, “Build a bridge”, addresses the growing issue of modern-day life, people not talking to each other, avoiding each other’s gaze, not wanting to interact, creating loneliness.

For me an enjoyable album both lyrically and musically, but I may just be in the minority on this one.

Brian Goucher