Bill Withers didn't follow the usual path of a Soul man, not for him the stabbing brass of Southern Soul, the "on the fours" Motown sound, or the extended workouts just becoming popular at the time this was originally released. His was a more Folk oriented approach, with spare arrangements for the most part, which emphasised the quality of the songwriting, but which still had a Soul groove.
For a debut album this is an amazing collection, dominated by Wither's highly original take on some old topics (as well as a few new ones) with Booker T's production providing the perfect backdrop. The opener, Harlem, builds from a simple acoustic guitar riff, through pounding drums, adding organ and strings to a superb climax, "Ain't No Sunshine" needs no words from me, and "Grandma's Hands" is one of those original topics, beautifully rendered in just 2 minutes. There can seldom have been a better start to an album than these 3.
Other stand-put tracks are his version of "Let It Be", taken to church (where it always belonged??) with organ and tambourine and not much else, "I'm Her Daddy", which captures the pain of absent fatherhood and "Better Off Dead", whose jaunty tone belies a bleak and original subject matter. Tracks like "Hope She'll Be Happier", and "Moanin and Groanin" typify the spare production which served him best, while he does a straight rendition of "Everybody's Talking" which almost segues straight from his original "Sweet Wainomi".
As one of the greats of '70's Soul, WIthers debut album deserves the widest possible audience. If you have recently heard Michael Kiwanuka, without knowing one of his main influences, then get a copy of this. An essential purchase.