A genuine living legend, Mavis Staples straddles the cultural pillars of the music industry and the civil rights movement like an overly self-deprecating colossus. Her umpteenth record, If All I Was Was Black, following years of success as part of The Staple Sisters, arrives under the tutelage of friend and collaborator Jeff Tweedy. In short, the perfect synchronization of their world views make the resulting recordings a beacon of light in the World of Shit epoch through which we're all stumbling.

A direct assault on the Trump White House, its champions on the alt-right and the hate speech that Staples sees seeping once again into the US national conversation, the record is all at once joyful, melancholy and raging. Musically, it calls back to Staples’ earliest roots in gospel and soul while nodding towards harder-edged funk redolent of her former label boss Curtis Mayfield.

The title track is a melodic swing back to Neil Young's ‘Walk On’ with a beautifully pinched funk guitar solo and a reined-in Baptist choral backing. Opener 'Little Bit' is spectacular; a true curve ball that sounds more like a genius reinterpretation of Doc at the Radar Station-era Beefheart or The Groundhogs than it really ought to. Mavis' voice alternately growls and preaches from the depths.

Everything about the arrangements is clipped and direct. The suggestion of an 808 slips through the net occasionally, employed to brighten up a held-back snare sound. Producer - and this time sole songwriter - Jeff Tweedy is well aware who he is working with, and that there is no need for bluster with that voice in the foreground. His vocal on the Country duet 'Ain't No Doubt About It' sits in the same octave as his illustrious partner, and they blend together in a way duets rarely do. There's no typical male/female divide; it's old friends sharing a beer and shooting the breeze.

The positivity even sometimes extends into the political arena. Staples is as much a leading figure of the civil rights movement as she is a respected musician, and the approved, ghost-written lyrics are predictably direct. 'Peaceful Dream' is a gospel call for understanding rather than violent protest. 'No Time For Crying' is a Curtis-style call to the pump, driven forward by a shuddering guitar note that rings like an old iron wind chime during a hurricane. 'People are dying / bullets are flying / we've got work to do'.

If All I Was Was Black is often times both troubling and soothing. If, growing up, I naively looked back at the 60's as the era in which the struggle for equality was entered upon, and the succeeding decades as representing the triumph of cosy liberalism, this is a salient reminder that history is cyclical. Tyranny never dies, it just buys new, smarter suits. And companionship is the surest, perhaps the only solution to ensure our survival.