Average White Band - All the Pieces: The Complete Recordings (2014)

Average White Band
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In the decade when funk music grew up, a number of self-contained bands made their mark on the music world, and none more than a seemingly out-of-place sextet from Scotland. With a self-deprecating group name, a great rhythm section and the tightest horns this side of Tower of Power, the Average White Band stormed onto the U.S. charts in 1974 with their self-titled "White Album," and started a love affair with R&B audiences that continues four decades later. And never has there been a more complete look back at the history of this seminal group than the newly released All The Pieces: The Complete Recordings, a 19-disc retrospective of all things AWB.

In the decade when funk music grew up, a number of self-contained bands made their mark on the music world, and none more than a seemingly out-of-place sextet from Scotland. With a self-deprecating group name, a great rhythm section and the tightest horns this side of Tower of Power, the Average White Band stormed onto the U.S. charts in 1974 with their self-titled "White Album," and started a love affair with R&B audiences that continues four decades later. And never has there been a more complete look back at the history of this seminal group than the newly released All The Pieces: The Complete Recordings, a 19-disc retrospective of all things AWB.

Narrated via Justin Kantor's beautifully comprehensive liner notes, All The Pieces tells the unlikely story of group of six white Scots - Alan Gorrie, Hamish Stuart, Onnie McIntyre, Malcolm Duncan, Roger Ball and Robbie McIntosh (who tragically died as the group broke out and was replaced by Steve Ferrone) -- who became stars in black America, and later the rest of the world, and created a series of songs and albums that more than stand up in 2014.

All the Pieces begins at the beginning, with the band’s early recordings for MCA, including their MCA-rejected tracks that ultimately became the foundation for their meteoric rise. These first stages of the group are compelling, and give a hint at what producer Arif Mardin saw as he took the band into the studio for the defining period that would follow. 

Of course, the meatiest part of the collection focuses on AWB’s halcyon days of 1974-79, when they issued one classic album after another and gave the world such varied, infectiously unique hits as their trademark instrumental “Pick Up the Pieces,” the sly “School Boy Crush,” the ultra-funky “Cut the Cake,” and now classic ballads “Cloudy” and “A Love of Your Own.” Hearing the full albums Cut The Cake, Soul Searching and Warmer Communications as well as the live Person to Person, provides an overwhelming reminder of just how in the pocket AWB was for the better part of a decade. These albums are all essentials for lovers of 70s funk and R&B.

As the 80s arrived, changes in popular music as well as a bit of a creative drought led to some unfortunate trend-chasing by AWB (Feel No Fret, After Shock) and some enjoyable but more generic projects (Shine, Volume VIII).

The band split and regrouped in the 80s, and a creative rebirth of AWB happened when they stopped seeking elusive radio play in a changed musical world. That can be seen best on 1996’s Soul Tattoo, an album that that may have been ignored by the masses, but which began a true second life for the authentic AWB sound, a life that continues to this day. And while the lineup continued to change since then – now consisting of Gorrie (vocals, bass), McIntyre (guitar), Freddy Vidgor (saxophone), Rocky Bryant (drums), Rob Aries (bass, keyboards) and Brent Carter (vocals) – AWB has spent the past 18 years solidifying its position as one of the most influential R&B bands of the modern era.

There are probably enough other AWB compilations out there to satisfy the casual fan, but for passionate, All the Pieces is the kind of immersion that nothing before has approached. One finishes this collection appreciating even more the unusual musical vision of these unusual musicians more than 40 years ago and the brilliance with which they’ve executed on that vision over the years, standing out even among the wealth of great artists who were their peers. AWB provided music to a generation that was something different – something that it turned out was far, far more than “Average.”  Highly Recommended.

by Chris Rizik

 

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