Bill Withers – Just As I Am (Big Break Records)

When Bill Withers arrived on the scene in 1971 he was decidedly out of step with the prevailing trends in soul and r&b. He didn’t use showbiz flash to please crowds. Instead, he wore a simple t-shirt and jeans, played seated with an acoustic guitar, and performed a very sullen and inward-looking set of songs just as rooted in the world of white singer-songwriters as they were in black music. His debut, Just As I Am, boasts production work from Booker T. Jones, and the MGs perform (sans Steve Cropper, who is replaced on guitar by Steven Stills), but it doesn’t have the trademark Booker T. and The MGs sound that fueled so many soul hits in the 1960s. No, this was something else altogether. Withers struck commercial pay-dirt with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” with that repetitive refrain of “I know, I know, I know” that still sounds perfect over four decades later, but it’s just one of many great songs on the album. “Harlem” finds Withers relaying his experiences from a visit to New York City. “Hope She’ll Be Happier” is a gut-wrenching tale of heartbreak with Withers’ voice soaring over a simple backing of guitar and organ. Things get a little sexy on “Moanin’ and Groanin’,” but the song is as indebted to Donovan’s “Season Of The Witch” as Al Green’s bedroom advances. Withers tackles a pair of covers as well, giving “Let It Be” a gospel vibe that perfectly compliments the song’s uplifting lyrics, and re-imagining the folky “Everybody’s Talking” (originally performed by Fred Neil but made famous by Harry Nilsson on the soundtrack to Midnight Cowboy) as a confident pop clap-along. Each of Just As I Am’s twelve songs is a perfect slice of warm and intelligently constructed music, and this newly reissued version is an essential purchase.


1. Harlem

2. Ain’t No Sunshine

3. Grandma’s Hands

4. Sweet Wanomi

5. Everybody’s Talkin’

6. Do It Good

7. Hope She’ll Be Happier

8. Let It Be

9. I’m Her Daddy

10. In My Heart

11. Moanin’ and Groanin’

12. Better Off Dead