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Thursday, 31 May 2012
“Just As I Am” by BILL WITHERS (2012 Big Break Records (BBR) '40th Anniversary' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...
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"...Sooth The Local Unwed Mother..."
This is one of my favourite
albums of the early Seventies - and at last - in 2012 - a mere 40 years after
the event - "Just As I Am" by Bill Withers is finally getting the
sound quality its always deserved and needed.
As a "Hall Of
Fame" reviewer and long-time contributor to Amazon - I've raved about
Britain's BIG BREAK RECORDS before and have bought and reviewed over 40 of
their reissue titles. Each has been uniformly superb - especially for those of
us looking for great sound quality rather than the half-hearted efforts thrown
at us by the majors (when they can be bothered). But BBR has excelled in every
way on this lovely and timely reissue. The remaster on this sucker is TRULY
GORGEOUS - and after decades of the occasional track on a compilation in
only-ok sound - fans of this great songwriter will be duly taken aback by the
clarity on offer here. Here are the details...
UK released 7 May 2012 as a
'40th Anniversary' issue (15 May 2012 in the USA) – "Just As I Am" by
BILL WITHERS on Big Break Records CDBBR 0143 (Barcode 5013929044333) is a
straightforward CD Remaster of his debut album and plays out as follows (35:41
2. Ain’t No Sunshine
3. Grandma’s hands
4. Sweet Wanomi
5. Everybody’s Talkin'
6. Do It Good
7. Hope She’ll Be Happier –
8. Let It Be Me
9. I’m Her Daddy
10. In My Heart
11. Moanin' And Groanin'
12. Better Off Dead
Tracks 1 to 12 are his debut
album "Just As I Am" - released May 1971 in the USA on Sussex Records
SXBS-7006 and June 1971 in the UK on A&M Records AMLS 65002.
SINGLES: Although there are
no bonus tracks or outtakes - this release will allow fans to sequence the two
USA 7" singles that were released around the album - "Ain't No
Sunshine" b/w "Harlem" on Sussex 219 (June 1971 - originally
issued in April 1971 with the same catalogue number - but with the tracks
reversed) - and "Grandma's Hands" b/w "Sweet Wanomi" on
Sussex 227 (October 1971). Britain had slightly different configurations -
"Everybody's Talkin'" b/w "Harlem" on A&M Records AMS
845 (May 1971), "Ain't No Sunshine" b/w "Harlem" on A&M
Records AMS 858 (September 1971) and "Lean On Me" b/w "Better
Off Dead" on A&M Records AMS 7004 (August 1972) [the A-side is on the
Sony Legacy CD of his 2nd album "Still Bill"].
This reissue comes in one of
those rounded-corner jewel cases and has a jam-packed 16-page booklet with
liner notes by Washington-born Soul aficionado RICO "SUPERBIZZAE"
WASHINGTON (Editor of the US magazine "Free"). There's a history of
the West Virginia Soulman's humble beginnings, label repros of the two Sussex
singles off the album and collected colour photos from various TV appearances
at the time. The front sleeve was actually shot on a lunch-break from his job
at the airlines - lunch-pail in hand. And there's even an interview with the
great man (recently featured on a superb BBC documentary film). It's really
nicely done and features recording details and album discography on the last
pages. But the real news is the SOUND...
Remastered from 1st
generation tapes by both NICK ROBBINS at Sound Mastering in London and BBR's
own WAYNE A DICKSON at their own studios - the clarity is beautiful. "Just
As I Am" is not so much Funky-Soul but more Folk-Soul - so a lot of the
tracks have just acoustic guitars and lots of air around them. I went through
so many copies of the (frankly dodgy) US Sussex LP and even the British A&M
tan label original - and they were always good rather than great - and in some
instances hissy as Hell. Not so here. It hasn't been trebled to the nines for
the sake of it - it's just breathing.
Right from the off the
acoustic guitars and drums on "Harlem" are amazing - as are the
strings, soft bass and vocals on his masterful "Ain't No Sunshine" -
all so sweet. The fantastically personal and socially aware "Grandma's
Hands" still has the power to move (lyrics above) and it's a blast to
finally get unheard gems like "Hope She'll Be Happier", "I'm Her
Daddy" and "Moanin' And Groanin'" in top-notch sound quality. In
fact of the 12 tracks - Withers impressively wrote 10 - the two covers being
Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" (made famous by Nilsson in
"Midnight Cowboy") and a very nice uptempo soul take on The Beatles'
"Let It Be". Favourites - I particularly love "Do It Good"
where the MG's play a blinder in terms of sheer slinky feel. And even though
the gunshot at the end of "Better Off Dead" is still too abrupt -
it's such a great tune. Yes folks. Love it. Love it. Love it.
If ever an artist deserved
praise and rediscovery from this classic Soul period - then it's Bill Withers.
For me this is 'Soul Reissue Of The Year' with a bullet.
Buy it and enjoy. And
remember - "it's not warm when she's away...only darkness every
PS: Big Break Records (BBR)
CD Remasters I’ve reviewed to 2015:
1. Is It Still Good To Ya –
ASHFORD and SIMPSON (1978)
2. Stay Free – ASHFORD and
3. Central Heating –
4. Hot Property - HEATWAVE
5. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
6. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY
7. Harvest For The World -
THE ISLEY BROTHERS (1976)
8. Go For Your Guns - THE
ISLEY BROTHERS (1977)
9. In The Heart – KOOL &
THE GANG (1983)
10. I Hope We Get To Love On
Time - MARILYN McCOO & BILLY DAVIS (1976)
11.I Miss You - HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE
NOTES (1972) [known as "Harold Melvin The Blue Notes" in the UK]
12. Black & Blue -
HAROLD MELVIN & THE BLUE NOTES (1973)
13. Love Is The Message -
14. Universal Love – MFSB
15. All The Faces Of... -
BUDDY MILES (1974)
16. For The First Time –
STEPHANIE MILLS (1975)
17. I Can See Clearly Now -
JOHNNY NASH (1972)
18. In Philadelphia - O'JAYS
19. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS
20. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS
21. Down To Love Town – THE
22. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL
(1970 and 1973)
23. 360 Degrees Of Billy
Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
24. War Of The Gods - BILLY
25. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM
26. Love For What It Is - ANITA
POINTER (of The Pointer Sisters) (1987)
27. Live: Stompin’ At The
Savoy – RUFUS and CHAKA KHAN (1983)
28. Summernights – SILVER
29. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED
30. Spinners – SPINNERS
31. Soul Master – EDWIN
32. Involved - EDWIN STARR
33. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
34 Watercolors – THE WATERS
35. Just As I Am - BILL
WITHERS (1971 Debut LP on Sussex/A&M Records)
36. Heartbeats – YARBROUGH
& PEOPLES (1983)
PPS: see also my in-depth
review for "The Complete Sussex And Columbia Albums" 9CD Box Set also