Bill Withers – 1973 – Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall
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Sometimes, no matter how great a songwriter or performer an act is, things just never work out in the studio, and it takes a live album to truly reveal their greatness and go on to become their trademark release.
Now let’s get one thing straight, Bill Withers is not without great studio albums, intact he released some unbelievably brilliant ones, but his most definitive release is 1973’s Live at Carnegie Hall, on which the man, his band and their audience all sound like they’re having one of the most flat out enjoyable nights of their lives.
The band’s ensemble playing is that elusive tight yet loose sound, and more emphasis is put on Withers’ top draw songwriting than you would imagine on a live album. Withers himself sounds completely at ease with his audience, the consummate performer and ever emotive vocalist, the connection he has with his band and his audience has a tangible, almost tactile, quality about it. From the moment the album starts, Withers has his audience in the palm of his hand, and the audience pay rapt attention to one of the greatest soul performers in the history of popular song.
It’s this combination of intelligence and maturity that allowed Withers to come across as one of the most engaging and amiable soul performers of the 70s, and it’s the lifeblood that pumps through Live at Carnegie Hall as he jokes around with his fans and gets the very best out of his band.
A1 Use One 8:30
A2 Friend Of Mine 4:26
A3 Ain’t No Sunshine 2:25
A4 Grandma’s Hands 5:08
B1 World Keeps Going Around 5:08
B2 Let Me In Your Life 4:35
B3 Better Off Dead 3:36
B4 For My Friend 2:58
C1 I Can’t Write Left Handed 6:52
C2 Lean On Me 5:47
C3 Lonely Town Lonely Street 3:54
C4 Hope She’ll Be Happier 4:23
D1 Let Us Love 5:21
D2 Harlem/Cold Baloney 13:07
By Daryl Easlea
Recorded on Friday 6th October 1972, Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall is one of those rare in-concert albums that puts you right there in the room. It’s like for one night only the Apollo in Harlem had moved 68 blocks downtown.
Captured on a night of heavy rain, Withers is genuinely humbled by the reaction of his audience. He thanks his crowd repeatedly for coming out in it, and the magic crackles from the start. Opener Use Me goes down so well, he gives in immediately to the multitude and plays it again.
His easygoing command of the situation can be heard in the band introductions in Friend Of Mine, and his passionate reminiscing about his grandmother before Grandma’s Hands. His denouncement of war as, ”one big drag” on the intro to the show-stopping anti-Vietnam I Can’t Write Left Handed (later the sample for Fatboy Slim’s Demons) is most poignant.
Bill Withers is one of those artists, who after hearing a few tracks again, you wonder why you’d ever listen to anyone else. Here, you have stunning versions of Ain’t No Sunshine, Lean On Me and a take of Harlem that brings the house down. As he wrote in the original notes for the album, ”in about an hour and a half that audience transformed us all from nervous, serious musicians into free and happy people. I know I’ll never forget it”.
If you know this album well, you’ll never forget it too. If you are unfamiliar with it, go hear it immediately. It is up there with James Brown Live at the Apollo 1962, Aretha’s Amazing Grace or Van Morrison’s It’s Too Late To Stop Now for allowing you to truly share the live experience of an artist at their pinnacle.
By Mark Barry
Like 1972’s “Donny Hathaway Live” LP (a single album on Atlantic Records) – 1973’s “Bill Withers Live At Carnegie Hall…” vinyl double has garnished a legendary reputation amongst Soul aficionados. Intimate with his audience despite the venue size – a band cooking – songs that sway and groove. Five of its mainly mellow fourteen are exclusive – the impassioned love songs “Friend Of Mine” and “Let Us Love“, the acoustic old-man weariness of “World Keeps Going Around”, the aching anti-war song “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” and “Cold Baloney” which is worked into a 14 minute encore with “Harlem“. “Carnegie Hall” is a whole heap of magic and you can literally feel the audience filing it into their memory banks. When he launches into some of the debut album’s finest moments – “Ain’t No Sunshine” or the lesser-heard funk of “Better Off Dead” – you can literally feel the crowd loving it – grooving – whopping – whistling.
There’s Funk on here too – “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” from the 1972 “Still Bill” LP is neck-jerking excellence. That’s immediately followed by the exact opposite – “Hope She’ll Be Happier With Him“. It’s a love song – tender and open like a wound – Withers sings “…maybe the lateness of the hour…makes me seem bluer than I am…” The cello builds, as he belts out those hurting lyrics “…over the darkness I have no power…hope she’ll be happier with him…” His other huge hit “Lean On Me” elicits a whole-house handclap – a gorgeous Soul moment. This is a song that has huge resonance and one that often moves me to tears. I’m sure a few were shed as this was played that October night back in 1972 New York.
Somehow like equal giants Bobby Womack, Minnie Riperton and Donny Hathaway – Bill Withers has always been the underdog of Soul – never spoken about in the same awe-struck tones that are routinely given to Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding. In my book he’s always been right up there with the best of them – a world class Soul Brother – and this album is a way in for us mere mortals to that musical greatness…
“…I loved that old lady…” – he says to the audience as he introduces “Grandma’s Hands” on “Live At Carnegie Hall”. Well – we feel the same about you mate. Beautiful and then some…
Finally don’t miss his two best studio albums here or click on the photo covers below.