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Sensual, spiritual - a masterpiece
on 16 March 2008
Sometimes you come across an album that, right from first listening, secures a place for itself in your private Top Five Of All Time. This is one of them and I'm now going around pressing it upon people with the zeal of a convert.
The "convert" metaphor is appropriate, because Terry Callier is straight out of that rich Chicago soul tradition that merges the delights of the flesh with the ecstasies of the spirit. Comparisons abound: there's a lot of Marvin Gaye here, channeling both What's Going On's cosmic compassion and Let's Get It On's sexual charisma. But Terry Callier casts a wider net than Seventies soul/funk - fans of English folk of the period will find echoes of Nick Drake and John Martyn in Callier's delicate guitar work and half-moaned accompaniments. Oh, and he can rock out too, with an irresistable groove on You're Goin' Miss Your Candyman.
The crowning glory on this album is the opening track, the delirious Dancing Girl which catapults the listener through the jazz bars and music festivals of the counterculture, out through the ghettos and the trail of urban misery then launches majestically into outer space, to bask under the dispassionate eye of a God beyond time and space. Cosmic, man. The title track, following close on this epic's heels, bravely elects not to compete in terms of complexity, but is another standout of introspective singer-songwriter class.
Only on Just As Long As We're In Love does ambitious soul-funk-jazz-folk chic slip into Seventies cheese, with a swooping orchestral motif that's just slightly the wrong side of kitsch. Never mind, the remaining tracks are all treasures; in particular Callier's magisterial voice wringing an oh-so-tender romanticism from the gentle ballad I'd Rather Be With You.
By some sort of universal law, any album as unique, personal and ambitious as this must vanish without trace, unremarked by critics or public. And so it was, with Callier getting a job as a computer programmer to support his family through the Eighties. I gather he was rediscovered by us Brits, during the heyday of acid jazz, and pestered back into recording again. Which means that, unusually for an artist of his era, he's once again putting out fine albums and can be seen live, with a voice and idealism unadulterated by the ravages of success. Hey: the Seventies' loss is our gain.
In the meantime, if you're going to buy one syncretic retro soul/folk/jazz crossover album this year - or in fact, any sort of late-night album at all - buy "What Colour Is Love". And a lava lamp. Enjoy!