In the week my home city of Newcastle in NE England is celebrating a full year commemorating the Rev’d King being awarded the Freedom of our City 50 years ago in 1967; and a speech he made condemning the racism that blighted his home country, one of the most famous names in Soul Music Mavis Staples is releasing an album of powerfully political songs on the same heinous subject that still plagues America.
Is it wrong to use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe the opening song Little Bit? Possibly but it most certainly is beautiful, in a tragic way that Ms. Staples tells her tale of a young black person’s woes in travelling at night.
To some degree it’s difficult for me, as near 60 year old white man in the North of England to truly understand where the writer is coming from with songs like Peaceful Dream and the amazing title track If All I Was Was Black; but as a working class man with a Social and Socialist conscience I can sympathise and even empathise with every ounce of passion and indeed L-O-V-E that Mavis Staples oozes across every second.
There’s a restrained anger on more than a couple of songs, which is no surprise to anyone who has watched the TV News over the last couple of years; yet on Try Harder, No Time For Crying and especially Build a Bridge Mavis shows great compassion and hope for the future in a way that pulls at the heartstrings but makes you really, really think too.
It’s possibly because I’d been listening to this album on the day I visited 3 photography exhibitions as part of the Freedom City Celebrations; but one song here captured my attention above all others; Peaceful Dream is a Gospel infused acoustic Folk Song which paraphrases Dr. Kings most famous speech but is so damn infectious it had me shuffling my feet and desperately wanting to punch the air with a clenched fist!
I’ve no idea what’s happening in the Hip-Hop culture but this album and Otis Taylor’s Fantasizing About Being Black from earlier in 2017 both show there is a valid place in contemporary music for a Black Protest Album; especially when they are of the quality of these two.
Jeff Tweedy’s production is both flawless and sensitive throughout; turning a potentially ‘angry’ set of songs into a glorious rallying call for not just Social Change but Peace, Love and Understanding too.
Released November 17th 2017
#First published on the Rocking Magpie website. https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/