Mavis Staples has again joined forces with songwriter-producer Jeff Tweedy for a new album entitled ‘If All I Was Was Black’, out 17th November.
More excitedly she has unveiled her latest single “Little Bit” here. The song is a cautionary anthem of all the ways in which those regarded as suspicious have to weigh their actions just to survive day to day: “A little bit too high, a little bit too low, a little bit out of line, and my baby won’t make it home.” Mavis leads listeners through call-and-response vocals in a soundscape that recalls Sly and the Family Stone’s mix of joy and social criticism unfolding over a funk-edged rhythm section.
The lyrics are occasionally shot through with anger. “I have a mind to bury them whole, when they go low,” Mavis sings on ‘We Go High’. “There’s evil in the world, and there’s evil in me” opens the first verse of ‘Try Harder’. “Oh, they lie, and they show no shame” adds a harsh undercurrent to ‘Who Told You That’, an anthem against accepting the status quo. Unsettling musical elements wind their way through the record, too, from the abrasive guitar distortion of ‘Try Harder to a descending bass line that signals danger on ‘Little Bit’.
Despite all this, the mood ring on Mavis’ 2017 outing is set to love, which runs through and over the fury and despair. The songs move less like a hammer and more like the tide, with Mavis countering the anger with an eye toward the work that is required to bring change. She is singing the world as it is, but also a way forward. Mavis is sure that the answer is to lift each other up. She’s not embracing the anxious hesitation of respectability politics but the possibilities of love.