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Pop - Released August 20, 2013 | Columbia - Legacy

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More generous than the 20-track The Very Best Of, Essential Bill Withers is a 34-track anthology that features all of Withers' notable singles, along with other highlights from the singer's albums for the Sussex and Columbia labels, from 1971's Just as I Am through 1985's Watching You Watching Me. This is a fine and extensive introduction to Withers' catalog, featuring "Ain't No Sunshine," "Lean on Me," "Use Me," "Lovely Day," and "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh." He also recorded scads of excellent deep album cuts that could not fit. In 2013, the lovingly packaged The Complete Sussex and Columbia Albums Collection -- released the previous year -- retailed for roughly three times the price of this set. Anyone with a serious interest in Withers' work should seriously consider that option, though it doesn't contain "Just the Two of Us," the big hit from Grover Washington, Jr.'s Winelight album. ~ Andy Kellman
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R&B/Soul - Released October 18, 2005 | Columbia - Legacy

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Though low-key by the standards of early-'70s soul, Withers' debut record is by most measures an astonishing maiden outing. Perhaps being at a relatively advanced age for a singer/songwriter doing his first album (Withers was in his early thirties by the time it was released) helped give the songs a maturity and weight lacking in most initial efforts. Withers immediately carved a distinct niche for himself within soul music by integrating folkier, more introspective elements than what was being heard almost anywhere else within the style. While gentle orchestration and jazz-funk rhythms could often be heard, he didn't forsake some down-home blues and gospel influences, which really came to the forefront on songs like "Grandma's Hands." The lilting, melancholy "Ain't No Sunshine" was the deserved smash hit from the record, but there were a bunch of fine effervescently grooving songs on the rest of the album that remain unjustly familiar to the general audience, like "Harlem," "Sweet Wanomi," "Moanin' and Groanin'," and "Better Off Dead." All the material was original save covers of Fred Neil's "Everybody's Talkin'" and the Beatles' "Let It Be," both of which Withers made over into his own memorable acoustic-based soul style. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Pop - Released April 21, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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Pop - Released April 21, 2015 | Columbia - Legacy

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R&B/Soul - Released August 9, 1994 | Legacy Recordings

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R&B/Soul - Released July 25, 2008 | Legacy Recordings

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Back in March 2004 music magazine Mojo included Withers' fourth album on a list of "67 Lost Albums You Must Own." Whether 'Justments is indeed the stuff of legend remains debatable. Surely no holy grail like the similarly mentioned Cold Fact by Sussex labelmate Sixto Rodriguez, it seems at least unfairly ignored. Nothing here might be as compelling as "Grandma's Hands" or "I Can't Write Left-Handed," but there are plenty of melancholy reflections from a genuine soulman who came across more as a West coast singer/songwriter. Replacing the hired hands of his debut with former employees of Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band proved equally important in shaping Withers' identity. Not only had they been instrumental in creating a landmark with his second album Still Bill, follow-up Live at Carnegie Hall showed how easily they could replicate their unrestrained approach on-stage, performing quite a few tunes which hadn't yet appeared on a studio album. This experience further tightening a natural combination, the band was set for Withers' third studio album. The moody overtones of 'Justments suggest both band and singer might have suffered a bit from fatigue, a notion not altogether far-fetched since they would dissolve upon completing it. Not even Spanish minstrel José Feliciano could rescue a song like "Railroad Man" from getting stuck in a not unpleasant but ultimately unrewarding jam mode. Still, a few gems are worth mentioning. The spine-tingling string sections for "You" and "Ruby Lee" for instance invoke the memory of Still Bill's intriguing "Who Is He and What Is He to You." The former would be released as a single and crack the Top 15 R&B chart, as would "Heartbreak Road" and "The Same Love That Made Me Laugh." The demise of Sussex led to both the labels' catalog and Withers himself being transferred to Columbia. Though some of its feel would always shine through his releases for his new employer, 'Justments stands out for being the last album where the artist's unique character takes the foreground rather than being mostly left to drown in a glossy production. Thus, while its "lost album" status is mostly due to it being out of print for ages, in a just world it would be re-released back to back with 1975's Making Music. This just might turn out historically interesting, as it would document Withers' evolution towards the guilty pleasure of "Lovely Day." ~ Quint Kik
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R&B/Soul - Released October 28, 1997 | Columbia - Legacy

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Dance - Released May 26, 2015 | Ultra Records, LLC

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R&B/Soul - Released July 28, 2008 | Columbia

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R&B/Soul - Released September 5, 2008 | Columbia

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R&B/Soul - Released July 25, 2008 | Legacy Recordings

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It can prove somewhat difficult to place Bill Withers among his peers. Despite a brief revival thanks to Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown, he will always remain something of an outsider to the soul movement. Starting out as an aircraft mechanic for the Navy, his performing career happened more or less by accident. Surprised to be invited to re-record his own demos -- a modest Withers had intended his songs for others -- he came forth with two brilliant albums chock-full of intriguing stories on mournful alcoholics, adulterers, and his late grandmother's hands. His exceptional talent as a storyteller placed him perhaps more in league with West Coast singer songwriters like Stephen Stills, who helped out on his debut, Just as I Am. A Vietnam chant, "I Can't Write Left Handed," placed him further apart as a socially conscious performer. The accompanying album, Live at Carnegie Hall, makes clear Withers is about total commitment to the music and music alone. Once called "the poet Stax never had" by onetime producer Booker T., his influence on artists like Ben Harper and Erykah Badu is not to be taken lightly. Much of the above can be said about Making Music. Because of the regretful demise of Withers' original label, Sussex, his fifth album was released on Columbia. It possesses the same down-to-earthiness and eye for ordinary day life as his former releases, though the production sometimes trades the organic "feel" for the familiar "end of the '70s slickness." He's excused since at least he didn't turn disco! No dancing across the floor for Bill: friends and family is what remains important to him, as becomes evident from the portrait on the album cover's backside and in songs like "Family Table" and "Don't You Want to Stay." Even when a song does not seem to have a subject but itself ("Sometimes a Song"), Withers and band deliver it with an urgency that would make Barry White shiver. To stay on the subject: instead of White wondering "what he's going to do with you," wouldn't you rather have Withers "Make Love to Your Mind"? ~ Quint Kik
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R&B/Soul - Released July 25, 2008 | Legacy Recordings

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Bill Withers collaborated with keyboardist/arranger/songwriter Paul Smith on this engaging set issued. Still Bill offers his usual mellowness and down-home sincerity on such cuts as "All Because of You," "Dedicated to You My Love," and the brotherly love-themed "Look to Each Other for Love." There are surprising up-tempo tracks like the horn-punctuated Top 30 R&B lead single "Don't Make It Better," and the back-alley funk of its follow-up, "You Got the Stuff," with its squishy, cartoonish vocoder-generated background vocals. "Love Is" and "All Because of You" are on Ain't No Sunshine issued by BMG International on February 29, 2000. "Love Is" was covered by dance artist Gino Soccio on his S Beat LP. ~ Ed Hogan
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Soul - Released July 30, 2013 | Columbia - Legacy