Billy Preston - 1970 – Encouraging Words
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“Encouraging Words” was the second and last album on Apple Records for long-time friend and sometimes collaborator with The Beatles – American keyboardist and Soul Singer Billy Preston. And along with his excellent debut LP the year before (1969’s “That’s The Way God Planned It”) – it’s not just one of the labels better offerings, it’s a criminally forgotten Seventies Soul gem – and arguably the best album of his long career.
The cast is impressive – GEORGE HARRISON co-produced the entire album with Preston, ERIC CLAPTON played guitar on 3 tracks – “Right Now“, “Use What You Got” and “Encouraging Words“. RINGO STARR and KLAUS VOORMAN are said to be on Drums and Bass respectively, while DELANEY BRAMLETT also plays guitar on “Encouraging Words” with Eric. The Rhythm Section for THE TEMPTATIONS are on there (Bass, Guitarist, Drums) while members of SAM and DAVE’S band played Drums and Bass too. Both MADELINE BELL and DORIS TROY provided beautiful soulful backing vocals (Doris Troy’s lone album on Apple “Doris Troy” was released the week earlier – 4 September 1970) while the EDWIN HAWKINS SINGERS are on “My Sweet Lord” and “Sing One For The Lord“.
Six of the 13 are Billy Preston originals with “My Sweet Lord” and “All Things (Must) Pass” being George Harrison compositions. “Let The Music Play”, “The Same Thing Again” and “Sing One For The Lord” are co-writes with Jesse Kirkland, James Herndon and George Harrison respectively. Which leaves two cover versions – The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “You’ve Been Acting Strange” by Ronnie Lee Williams (also covered by Merry Clayton on her 1970 “Gimme Shelter” album).
A1 Right Now 3:13
A2 Little Girl 3:28
A3 Use What You’ve Got 4:21
A4 My Sweet Lord 3:21
A5 Let the Music Play 2:42
A6 The Same Thing Again 4:32
B1 I’ve Got a Feeling 2:49
B2 Sing One for the Lord 3:47
B3 When You Are Mine 2:44
B4 I Don’t Want You to Pretend 2:35
B5 Encouraging Words 3:32
B6 All Things Must Pass 3:38
B7 You’ve Been Acting Strange 3:20
Encouraging Words was about as fine an album as Apple Records ever issued by anyone who wasn’t a member of the Beatles, and it’s also better than many of the Apple albums issued by the ex-bandmembers; but it’s also among the most obscure of any album that the label ever issued by a major artist — without a hit single to drive its sales, the LP never did more than brush the very bottom of the charts, and it was quickly lost amid the financial collapse of the label and the implosion of the Beatles’ business ventures; even many Billy Preston fans never had a chance to find out it was there, obscured as it was by his subsequent chart success with “Outta Space” on the A&M label. A bold and searing effort mixing gospel, soul, and rock sounds about as well as any record cut that year, Encouraging Words lived up its killer musical pedigree, partly an offshoot of the evolution of the Let It Be and All Things Must Pass albums, and of sessions that Preston and George Harrison had produced for Doris Troy; but it also picked up where Preston’s playing for Ray Charles had left off in 1968. The surging, soaring blues “The Same Thing Again,” and the driving rocker “You’ve Been Acting Strange,” both Preston originals, were worth the price of the album, but for those requiring familiar fare, Preston’s renditions of “My Sweet Lord,” “All Things (Must) Pass,” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” are here too, the first two as stunning gospel numbers (the second with some gorgeous jazz and classical embellishments) that make the Harrison versions seem pallid; and the latter a delightfully funky rendition that makes the Beatles’ recording sound like a classy demo; and for truly, delightfully strange sound amalgams, “Sing One for the Lord” manages to couple soaring gospel with some loud lead guitar and a piano part derived from Tchaikovsky (AMG).
Encouraging Words is Billy’s second Apple album, and it was a creative collaboration with George Harrison in every sense. Billy and George played together and sang together (with George on backing vocals). They also took charge of the production together, capturing the passionate heart and soul of each performance.
Every facet of his Billy’s music — from his composing to his playing, from his lyrics to his vocals — come together on Encouraging Words, an album that stands as one of the finest titles in the Apple Records catalogue. Play this album back to back with Doris Troy, issued around the same time in September 1970, and you’ll get a good picture of just how glorious those funky-R&B-soul crossovers could be at Apple.