Bill Withers – Just As I Am

Another soul favorite, Bill Withers takes on a different meaning to me than Sam Cooke.  Simply, whenever I hear Bill, I think of my dad, your grand dad.  I’m not even sure why as there really isn’t a direct correlation, just some minute similarities.  My dad came out of poverty from a single parent home (like Bill) in Natchez, MS.  Part of the reason I am doing these writings is because of what I don’t really know about him.  For better or worse, I want you to know everything about your dad.  I don’t know the man who bears our Hall name, my dad’s father.  I know he wasn’t around long.  That’s about it.  I know my dad then had some serious struggles with my Mimi’s next husband who would then leave the picture as well.   My dad had to assume responsibility for family very early in his life.  Work, survival, and improving life for himself, his mother and sister replaced some of the innocence we fortunate ones get to experience in our youth.  Your grandad instilled an intense work ethic in his 3 sons.  I can say that affection, emotion and sympathy were definitely sacrificed or less stressed than functionality in the world.  My mom had to assume the nurturing roles. Unfortunately, it didn’t take as well as she would have hoped.  That emotional weakness or maybe better said as stunted, affection disorder has been a very serious issue within me.  And has caused alot of pain for others as a result.  But I digress…as I often do.

Born in coal country WV, Bill Withers was an extremely hard working, no nonsense man.  Just look at the album cover.  He’s holding his lunch pail presumably on the way to work.  Withers used the Navy to get out and find another life.  Just As I Am was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee, and produced by Booker T. Jones, a member of the legendary soul group Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The album featured ten tracks, with six of them written by Withers himself.  Released in 1971, this album showcased Withers’ ability to convey complex emotions through his soulful voice and deeply personal lyrics.

The opening track of the album, “Harlem,” sets the tone for what is to come. It’s a soulful ballad that speaks of the struggles and hardships faced by African Americans in Harlem during the 1960s. Withers’ voice, accompanied by a simple guitar riff, is enough to send shivers down your spine.  Next is the timeless classic “Ain’t No Sunshine.” This song has been covered by countless artists over the years.  The sparse instrumentation, featuring little more than a guitar and drums, allows Withers’ vocals to take center stage, and his performance on this track is nothing short of stunning.

“Grandma’s Hands” strikes a familiar chord. This song, which was inspired by Withers’ grandmother, is a tribute to the woman who raised him and instilled in him a deep love for music. Withers’ vocals on this track are particularly moving, and his lyrics perfectly capture the sense of warmth and comfort that his grandmother provided.  “Sweet Wanomi” has always been a favorite as I can’t help but think of holding you as a baby (when you would let anyone).

The rest of the album is filled with similarly powerful tracks, each one showcasing Withers’ unique ability to blend soulful vocals with deeply personal lyrics. From the gospel-tinged “Lean On Me” to the hauntingly beautiful “Hope She’ll Be Happier,” “Just As I Am” is an album that speaks to the heart and soul of anyone who has ever experienced love, loss, or the joys of simply being alive.

Withers’ music speaks to the human experience in a way that transcends time and space.  I believe they call that “evergreen.”  My goal for myself with you.  Just as I am.

Favorite Tracks: All

Pressing: Music On Vinyl. MOVLP-378.  ReIssue. 2012.