Sun Spin: Bill Withers
Ladies & Gents, The Cadillac of Live Recordings
Jambase | 1/26/2009
Captured on a rainy night in 1972, Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall is everything a tremendous live document aspires to – intimate yet bold, seductive and entertaining, a frozen piece of time that retains a part of the evening’s spark. Most artists are already at a significant disadvantage going up against Bill Withers in the early ’70s, where his mingling of acoustic guitar, funk flavors, tough pop instincts and populist anthems was Paul Simon lethal, as witness by the Top 10 debut of his first single, the immortal “Ain’t No Sunshine” – a classic covered many times but never with the same flair or feeling of Withers’ original.
Backed at Carnegie Hall by the better part of The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – one of the under-sung soul heroes of that genre’s golden age – who he’d snapped up after the rapid success of his first album, Just As I Am (1971), Withers is indestructible. His buzz is palpable and infectious and even after only two years it’s certain his days as a blue-collar plumber were fast fading memories. Slinky as shit and beyond talented, this band moves through the tall grass with predatory perfection, laying low when it makes sense and pouncing with unerring accuracy, as in opener “Use Me,” where the song comes to a complete stop but it’s clear the crowd is still really feelin’ it so they jump back in for another couple choruses. Again and again, they let the music breath, kicking it while Withers tells stories like some streetwise Garrison Keillor and then falling in perfectly, a breathing entity of many limbs serving some of the strongest pop music ever created.