It's rare for Bob Dylan to be surpassed by his opener, but Mavis might do it
“Every now and then I see [a news event] that takes me back to the '60s [Civil Rights movement],” Mavis Staples told Alive in 2014. “But I'm still here … and as long as I'm here I'm going to be fighting. My work isn't done yet.”
On If All I Was Was Black (Anti-), the soul legend's third and most recent collaboration with Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, this work feels as needed as ever. The album kicks off with “Little Bit,” on which Staples explores the deep racial tensions that can lead seemingly innocuous actions (reaching for identification, or carrying merchandise in a big-box retailer that sells BB guns, for instance) to have deadly results. While these darker undercurrents run throughout — “Oh, they lie and they show no shame,” Staples sings of her justice-fearing opposition on “Who Told You That?” — the singer's optimism and unrelenting belief in a brighter future have a way of making even the most odious human traits feel like little more than passing storm clouds.
Bob Dylan headlines. Word is that he's pretty OK, too.