Friday, October 21, 2005

Funky Friday's Seventies Soul

Bill Withers has one of those voices that is unmistakable - you hear it and you know it's him. He released his debut LP Just As I Am in 1971, and it was a hit right away due to it's leading single Ain't No Sunshine, an absolute classic of a song. Here was a singer combining elements of folk and r'n'b, showing such sensitivity and telling such great stories - gritty realism mixed with such melancholy. The album, produced by the already legendary Booker T. Jones, has just been remastered and reissued. It doesn't have bonus tracks, but it is a DualDisc, so you can pop it in your DVD player and enjoy a short documentary about the making of the album, as well as a couple of great live performances and a 5.1 surround mix of the record. Needless to say it's the shit - 12 great tracks with no filler - with 2 covers (Everybody's Talkin' & Let It Be, both very unique takes) and 10 originals that are just plain brilliant. The band is incredibly tight - Jim Keltner and Al Jackson (The M.G.s) on drums, Stephen Stills on guitar and Booker T. on keys and guitar too. The album opens with Harlem, gorgeously breezy and strummy soul with some hot strings. The tune starts softly and builds into a big, orchestrated stomper that tells a simple story about life in the mythical hood that is Harlem. The record goes on to Ain't No Sunshine and Grandma's Hands (sample spotters will recognise the opening riff, used by Dr. Dre on Blackstreet's No Diggity) and the aforementioned covers before wrapping up with the tragic tale of love gone wrong that is Better Off Dead - "she's better off without me and I'm better off dead." If you've never heard it before, the end of the song will get you. A truly great album and a classic of it's era.

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