Friday, 5 February 2016

"Just As I Am" by BILL WITHERS (2012 Big Break Records (BBR) '40th Anniversary' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"...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 minutes):

1. Harlem
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 – [Side 2]
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 day..."

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 SIMPSON (1979)
3. Central Heating – HEATWAVE (1977)
4. Hot Property - HEATWAVE (1979)
5. Candles - HEATWAVE (1980)
6. Turnin' On - HIGH INERGY (1977)
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 - MFSB (1973)
14. Universal Love – MFSB (1975)
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 (1969)
19. Back Stabbers - O'JAYS (1972)
20. Ship Ahoy - O'JAYS (1973)
21. Down To Love Town – THE ORIGINALS (1977)
22. Ebony Woman - BILLY PAUL (1970 and 1973)
23. 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul - BILLY PAUL (1972)
24. War Of The Gods - BILLY PAUL (1973)
25. Platinum Hook – PLATINUM HOOK (1978)
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 CONVENTION (1977)
29. Smoked Sugar - SMOKED SUGAR (1975)
30. Spinners – SPINNERS (1973)
31. Soul Master – EDWIN STARR (1968)
32. Involved - EDWIN STARR (1971)
33. Switch - SWITCH (1978)
34 Watercolors – THE WATERS (1980)
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 from 2012...
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