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Published: 2012/10/24
by Bill Murphy

Bill Withers
The Complete Sussex & Columbia Masters


If there was ever any doubt that Bill Withers is one of the most natural and gifted songwriters to strum an acoustic guitar, this impressive box set ought to lay all argument to rest. Assembling the nine albums he recorded for the Sussex and Columbia labels between 1971 and 1985, with new liner notes by Michael Eric Dyson and an intro from Withers himself, the package is a compact keepsake, but it’s also full of nuggets for anyone who knows the timeless early ’70s hits (“Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Lean on Me” and “Use Me,” for starters) and is hungry for more. Withers’ instantly identifiable voice—simple, soulful and strong—leaps out of his lesser-known 1973 album Live at Carnegie Hall, for instance, while “I Wish You Well” and other obscure singles sound as funky and uplifting now as they did spinning around on a turntable back in the day. Even his later ballads, like “Something That Turns You On”—a casualty of the prevailing squeaky-clean sound of mid-’80s R&B—starts to sizzle as soon as he takes the microphone. For deep Withers fans, there are no outtakes or alternate versions here, but given the wealth of riches, it’s only a minor drawback.

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