Bill Withers - 'Justments (2010 Reissue)

Bill Withers
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Still Bill, Just As I Am, and Live at Carnegie Hall are appropriately considered the watershed moments in troubadour Bill Withers' esteemed career, giving him most of his #1 Billboard pop and R&B hits. Still, later gems like Menagerie and the re-mastered deluxe edition re-issue of ‘Justments have been undeservedly ignored at the expense of a potentially large audience's deep enjoyment, particular for Withers' stalwarts.

Still Bill, Just As I Am, and Live at Carnegie Hall are appropriately considered the watershed moments in troubadour Bill Withers' esteemed career, giving him most of his #1 Billboard pop and R&B hits. Still, later gems like Menagerie and the re-mastered deluxe edition re-issue of ‘Justments have been undeservedly ignored at the expense of a potentially large audience's deep enjoyment, particular for Withers' stalwarts.

Generally considered a "lost album" because of its extended Siberian exile as an out-of-print rarity, ‘Justments is something of a quiet masterpiece. Yielding three Top 15 R&B hits, including the urban suede "You" and the pedestrian " Heartbreak Road ," only one of the project's classic bassline jams has remained in the public consciousness over the next two generations: the Top 10 R&B hit "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh." Perennial hits aside, there are other moments of brilliance on ‘Justments long-due similar attention. The dual guitar romance of "Can We Pretend" is one-beckoning easy comparisons to the best of George Benson and Wes Montgomery. The bell trees, harps, and strings that delicately lace the schoolhouse anthem, "Stories," is another. The thumping bass guitars and tribal percussions of the never-ending "Railroad Man" that is as much church jam as a seed for early house music. The otherworldly, almost aquatic "Make A Smile For Me" touches almost as much as the heartfelt "Liza," a song that harkens back to an era when a song about love between an uncle and his niece wouldn't automatically be presumed to be about incest and trauma.

Throughout ‘Justments, strings play a heavy role in what are still often folk and blues songs washed in a soul, jazz, or even classical treatment, giving them Withers' country roots songs an uptown sophistication. ‘Justments marks Withers' final Sussex album before the demise of the label. It is also arguably the end of an acoustic soul sound that Withers pioneered before signing with Columbia and morphing into a slicker, jazzier version of his blue-collar persona. As transition albums go, they don't get much better than this musical adjustment.

*The deluxe edition also includes bonus tracks from Making Music and Naked & Warm, including "Hello Like Before."

Notable Tracks: "Can We Pretend," "Ruby Lee," "Make A Smile For Me," and "Same Love That Made Me Laugh"

Vocals: 3.5 stars
Music: 3.5 stars
Lyrics: 3.5 stars
Production: 3.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Strongly Recommended

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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