Bill Withers has passed away at age 81. I’ve written a fair amount about Withers on this site (see here and here) but the closest I feel like I’ve ever come to articulating what made him such a memorable singer and songwriter came with this 2012 review I wrote of his Complete Sussex and Columbia Masters anthology.
At risk of being solipsistic, this is what I wrote for my intro and it still stands true to me today.
“It may sound contradictory to describe Bill Withers’ voice as “uniquely plainspoken,” but this singer and songwriter from West Virginia coal country began his career at the crossroads between folk, R&B and rock. He was neither a showy shouter nor a sweet crooner. Instead, Withers always conveyed his emotions with a simple, forthright earnestness — the everyman singer with a poet’s soul.”
As a bonus, never forget this awesome 1972 live performance; check out my fly guy James Gadson on drums with his sparkling smile.