SONGS OF OBSESSION: BILL WITHERS’ "CAN WE PRETEND"



Bill Withers: Can We Pretend & Stories
From +’Justments (Sussex, 1974)

For some reason, Bill Withers has the reputation as someone whose songwriting was better than his singing. I always found this a strange accusation – Withers was certainly a genius writer (“Ain’t No Sunshine” anyone?) but it’s hardly as if he had a terrible voice. It’s true – he didn’t have the range or purity of tone like Marvin Gaye or Sam Cooke but Withers was comforting and familiar – like a good friend to share an afternoon with. For some reason, he reminds me of what a happier Chet Baker might have sounded like singing soul.

Anyways, most soul/funk heads I know own two Withers’ albums – maybe three, but that’s about it: Still Bill, Just As I Am and Menagerie (for “Lovely Day”). But I admit, I’ve always passed by +’Justments and never thought twice about it. Until I listened to it.

The more uptempo, funkier stuff is ok – definitely not as good as what’s on Still Bill but it’s ok. However, two of the ballads really shine. “Stories” reminds me of a Donny Hathaway song – simple and elegant with just a piano in the background. Even better is “Can We Pretend” – simply sublime, especially Withers’ vocal arrangement. Damn, how did I sleep on this for so long?

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