Just As I Am

Bill Withers

Sussex Records, 1971

http://billwithers.com

REVIEW BY: Max Kaplan

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/13/2021

Bill Withers, one of the finest singers and songwriters in music history, debuted his studio career with the album Just As I Am in 1971. The album blends a classic southern soul mix of blues, funk, and gospel. Just As I Am features performances from some of the greatest musicians of the genre, including Al Jackson Jr., Donald “Duck” Dunn, Stephen Stills, and Booker T. Jones who produced the record. The Booker T. & The M.G.’s rhythm section along with Withers’ creative songwriting and rich baritone makes for a strong and timeless combination. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The album is host to some of Wither’s biggest hits. The most prominent tune, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” is a genre-defining standard that quickly rose to number six on the U.S. R&B Chart and number three on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Al Jackson Jr.’s drumming pairs perfectly with Withers as he chants the now famous lyric “I Know” in a repetitious pattern that serves as a bridge on the track. “Grandma’s Hands,” a loving remembrance of a cherished grandmother, features the brilliant arrangements of Booker. T Jones’ production.

Side two begins with the heart-wrenching “Hope She’ll Be Happier.” Here Withers paints an honest and dark picture of someone who’s just lost their love to another. Withers’ voice excels as he belts over light instrumentation. “Sweet Wanomi” and “Better Off Dead,” two songs often overlooked on the album in favor of the bigger hits, showcase Withers capabilities to create two memorable songs. Though the songs are vastly different in subject matter and harmonics, they both leave the listener craving a second listen. With “Let It Be” and “Everybody’s Talkin’,” Withers takes two standards in the pop music realm of the time and transforms them into soul expositions.

Just As I Am is a fitting title for the album since Withers himself could stand as a sole representative of the soul songwriting field. Any devoted Bill Withers fan already has Just As I Am in their collection, but for those new to Withers or to the world of ’70s soul, this is the album necessary to complete any collection.

Rating: A-

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