Still Bill

Still Bill

Bill Withers' first two albums, Just As I Am and Still Bill, make a potent one-two punch. Both are loaded with some of the most ubiquitous standards of '70s pop, let alone R&B. On his debut, Withers was backed by an all-star cast of players, but Still Bill features his hard-grooving road band, one of the funkiest ensembles of the era, and they infuse the album with feeling. For instance, the supple syncopation of James Gadson's drums and the serpentine slink of Raymond Jackson's clavinet on "Use Me" help make it simultaneously sensual and super-funky. And the understated insinuation of the groove on "Who Is He (And What Is He to You)?" perfectly underscores the narrator's slowly growing paranoia. But funky propulsion is far from the whole story here. The enduring, much-covered "Lean on Me" moves like a hymn before bursting into a clap-along gospel chorus that punctuates its openhearted message of compassion. And within a framework of gently jazzy guitar and billowing strings, Withers works the tender side of his sound on "Let Me in Your Life," directed at a wounded heart wary of opening up again. Withers would keep making killer records throughout the '70s, but Still Bill (and its predecessor) set a standard soul singers would follow for generations to come, with Withers’ warm, oaky voice and deep-but-unpretentious examinations of heart and soul pushed along by a sensitive but slamming band.

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