published: 29 /
Jon Rogers is impressed by 'The Complete Sussex and Columbia Album Masters', a new nine CD box set from soul giant Bill Withers
Bill Withers is perhaps best - and maybe only - known for the utterly captivating 'Ain't No Sunshine' and its almost obligatory appearance on every schmaltzy rom-com (especially ones starring Hugh Grant). If that is the case then people are in for an eye-opening treat.
This box set of the nine albums Withers recorded for the Sussex and Columbia albums from 1970 onwards shows that there was a lot more to this blue-collar worker turned R&B singer than just tear-jerkers (admittedly exceptionally good tear-jerkers).
Fresh out of the navy in 1965, where he had picked up an interest in singing and writing songs, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical dreams. When he wasn't working on the production line of whatever company would employ him to pay the bills, Withers was working on recording a demo tape and trying to get noticed. He eventually came to the attention of Clarence Avant, the owner of the small label Sussex, who offered to make a record with him. In stepped one Booker T Jones of 'Green Onions' fame as producer and the rest is, as they say, history.
'Ain't No Sunshine' is the song most associated with Withers and still manages to tug the heartstrings with its tale of heartbreak and failed relationships. But Withes was no one-trick pony. Even on his first album 'Just As I Am' he was showing a social conscience way before the likes of Marvin Gaye got in on the act with 'What's Going On'. Songs like 'Harlem' and, later, 'Lonely Town, Lonely Street' showed there was more to him than just songs for the broken-hearted.
With no doubt one eye on the Christmas market, Sony have now compiled all of the nine albums Withers recorded for the two labels, including the double live album 'At Carnegie Hall' And all nine have something to offer, admittedly, his final two albums - ''Bout Love' in 1979 and 'Watching You Watching Me' in 1985 - are a little substandard and his voice isn't quite what it was. But there is still something there that endures and captivates.