Bill Withers Album Reviews

It’s very difficult to discuss this enduring 1970’s acoustic soul singer without referencing one of my favourite jokes, so let’s get it out of the way first, shall we?

How do you turn a duck into a soul singer?
Put it in the microwave until its bill withers.

Withers was a relatively late comer to the music industry – he spent his twenties working in manual jobs like manufacturing aeroplane toilets. His debut Just As I Am was released in 1971, at the age of 32, and contained the iconic ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. 1972’s more confident Still Bill followed in 1972, and contained another standard in ‘Lean On Me’.

At this point I’ve only covered Withers’ first two studio albums, and Live At Carnegie Hall, primarily because I’ve never seen copies of his later albums – even his first two albums were unreleased on CD for a long time. Withers continued having hits like ‘Lovely Day’ and ‘Just The Two Of Us’, before bowing out of the music industry with 1985’s Watching You Watching Me – interestingly, a local band had a huge New Zealand hit with a cover of that album’s ‘Sweet Lovers In The Night’ in 1988.

Withers’ music is eminently likable – he exudes a wisdom and humility that’s rare in popular music. His early records transcend genres intuitively – he’s bridging the gap between acoustic singer-songwriter and soul. While his catalogue arguably isn’t as deep and rich as some of his contemporaries, his early albums are excellent and among the best of their era.

Five Favourite Bill Withers’ Songs

Ain’t No Sunshine
Grandma’s Hands
Lean On Me
Use Me
Who Is He (And What Is He to You)