Bill Withers created mellow, downhome-style soul for barely more than a decade before retreating from the industry to pursue craftsman interests. Yet over the course of the handful of albums he made for Sussex and CBS, the Appalachian native struck lasting emotional chords in legends ranging from Booker T. Jones to Stephen Stills — not to mention the millions of listeners that fell under the spell of now-standard tracks such as "Lean on Me," "Use Me," and "Ain't No Sunshine." The antithesis of the sweaty R&B shouter that prowled the edge of stages, Withers dealt in calm and vulnerability, qualities that come to fore on the seminal Bill Withers' Greatest Hits.
Characteristics ranging from the tension of the guitars, funky bends of the bass, whisper-soft coo of the formal strings, airiness of the backing harmonies, and sharpness of the snare drum emerge with utmost clarity and lifelike presence. Always prized for its naked honesty and pure conviction, Withers' music positively caresses the senses.
Incredibly, Withers almost never got a shot at recording. After receiving a deal from Sussex while laboring as a toilet-seat manufacturer, he landed in the care of Stax bandleader Booker T. Jones, who gathered most of his fellow MG members — along with Stills and Jim Keltner — to assist in Withers' debut. Two takes from those sessions, the Grammy-winning "Ain't No Sunshine" and devotional "Grandma's Hands," are included here, and showcase the vocalist's incredible breath control, folksy drawl, and restrained phrasing. They also indicate his penchant for converting biographical experience into eminently catchy combinations of pop, gospel, blues, and soul.
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