BILL WITHERS Still Bill (Sussex)

Perhaps unfairly recognised, if at all, only for two or three songs, Bill has never been thought of as an album artist like a Stevie, a Marvin or a Sly, or even a Curtis, an Al or an Isaac. Although there might not be a unifying thread (politics, God, Sex, plants, drugs, crime etc.) tying these ten songs together, “Still Bill” is certainly no two singles/eight b-sides quota quickie.

Consistent in its high quality, “Still Bill” deals with personal politics, its songs titles rich with personal pronouns. On “Let Me In Your Life” he’s trying to mend a broken heart with compassion and a sympathetic string arrangement; “Who Is He (And What Is He To You)?” smarts with the sting of suspicion. I find “Use Me” a bit icky, but at least it all sounds consensual – I can see why Grace Jones recorded one of its fifty or so cover versions, though the concept of a Scott Walker interpretation takes a little getting used to. Its hollowed-out arrangement could be a precursor of the kind of sparse, stripped down electro-funk Prince would major in a decade or more later. “Lean On Me” – yeah, one of the aforementioned two or three – was written as an expression of appreciation of the support Withers received from colleagues at the Lockheed factory where he was working whilst attempting to launch his musical career. It might just sound like a soulful reworking of “You’ve Got A Friend”, but, on the other hand, it’s a soulful reworking of “You’ve Got A Friend” – resulto! The cheery anti-bling of “I Don’t Know” is delightful (“Feeling like a rich man/Haven’t got a dime/Feeling like a young man/But I’m as old as Father Time”), yet “Another Day To Run” subtly morphs into a blaxploitation miniature, addressing drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution and religion almost before you realise it. The album closes with the equally delicate call for empowerment of the gloriously 70s-titled “Take It All In And Check It All Out” – it’s not exactly the Black Panthers, but no less valid because of it.

This barcode-less vinyl pressing possesses the delightful time capsule ambience of an album that’s been idling away the last few decades in a darkened warehouse. The sound is a little distorted in places, but is still so much better than not having a vinyl pressing at all.