R.I.P.: Bill Withers

His biggest hits came a little bit before my time as an awakened, information-seeking music fan. But I was thrilled to discover what a self-made career he had. A landmark in my realization that if you love the work, a terrific backstory only makes it better.

My picks are the obvious: Live at Carnegie Hall first and Lean on Me: The Best of Bill Withers as follow-up.

His boldest move: the “IknowIknowIknowIknowIknow” sequence in “Ain’t No Sunshine.” When he starts you’re like “Whut? Whut??” but by the end you’re going “Yeh — YEH!”

Stuff in the Air That Came Out of Speakers Today Locked in the Tower #4

(Wrapping up some lockdown turntable series.)

Helen Merrill/Dick Katz, A Shade of Difference (Milestone, recorded 1968)

Hank Mobley, A Slice of the Top (Blue Note, recorded 1966)

Not the ’60s as I experienced them, but sure a comfort to Olde Me. Slice of the Top is both a hard-bop-roots grounded but waay-intelligent innovative session. My pick for those wanting to meet Mobley. A Shade of Difference (other players: Thad Jones, Elvin Jones, Jim Hall, Ron Carter) has exquisite tenderness and seductive ease, ending with a masterpiece “Where Do You Go?” and a superlative rendition of my Official Song of the Year: “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.”

Stuff in the Air That Came Out of Speakers Today Locked in the Tower #1

(Faves from the beginning of the lockup, not today)

Joni Mitchell, back catalog on vinyl starting with Clouds. Gawd, “Woodstock” is such a visionary piece of work. And that voice, eternally skating down the river. Reminds me how much when these LPs were new I would play them and think that even if I was her peer Joni Mitchell would be waaaaaay too much woman for me: Royalty Hippie Chick, Sorceress, Poetic Master of multi-media — words, sounds, images. (Nothing has changed my opinion that the jazz-fusion moves were duds.) Best numbers utterly untouched by time.

Hank Mobley, back catalog of vinyl (in a series depending on my impulses). I was amazed to find I had no readily available Mobley on CD, but a nice little knot of vinyl in the archives. First up: Hank Mobley with Kenny Clark, Hard Bop (1979, Savoy Jazz/Arista). Original recordings from 1956. The ’50s as tough and pretty, reflecting and exploring in a quite hidden world.