Friday, 4 November 2011

In Appreciation Of...Bill Withers

I first heard of Bill Withers as the writer of "Ain't No Sunshine" to me (then) a Michael Jackson song.  Soon after I heard "Harlem" - that was a revelation - I had to get the album "Just As I Am" - this was an amazing debut with both of those songs together with a set of personal songs warmly and gently produced ("Grandma's Hands" amongst them.)  Here was a real talent for the here and now - not full of all the hoopla of early 70s rock craziness or the heavily stylised soul artists of the time - a guy, a guitar, small band, wonderful songs - what more could we want?

The second album showed us. Trailed by the (now) standard "Lean On Me" this is a step up from "Just As I am" - same voice, same simplicity of approach but a little bit more in arrangement - a consistency of feel and again - great songs.  "Who Is He (and What Is He To You)" and "Use Me" stand out together with for me one of the greatest love songs ever "Let Me In Your Life" a beautiful pleading song about a man not being let in due to hurt felt because of his predecessor.  This is one of my favourite soul albums of all time from a era when artists of the genre were starting to be given the freedom to deliver a whole package and not just a hit single or two with some filler.  A and M/Sussex invested time (or perhaps not?) and left him alone to do his thing.  I prefer these two first albums and the third "Live At Carnegie Hall" to his later stuff.  The fourth album "+Justments" is worth a listen but is short of this standard.

He moved (or the label did) to Columbia where he had another smash success with "Lovely Day" another standard.  His hit rate is high but not due to just a popularity but due to quality music again and again.

I've never saw him live and last year I read that he was now a stone mason which he loved doing.  Then a month ago I saw reference to a "Still Bill" film documentary which (i think) is yet to be shown in the UK.  previews and trailers on the web show him in the studio and at gigs so now i'm not sure the stone mason story is right.  I hope it's not and he'll arrive here for a tour soon.

There's some good live footage on YouTube (mainly BBC) but you should seek out these two albums and the Live set - there'll be no regrets...

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