Bill Withers + 'Justments
3.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Bill Withers was a sincere songwriter without filters who breathed life into his semi-autobiographical characters, such as his sanctimonious grandmother ("Grandma's Hands"), shysters posing as pious men ("Harlem"), cozy acquaintances ("Kissing My Love") and hopeless love affairs ("Let Me Into Your Life").
Withers served in the Navy, moving onto an inglorious career building airplane toilet seats on an assembly line before launching his music career at the ripe age of 33. His first album, 1971's "Just As I Am," produced by Booker T. Jones, featured "Grandma's Hands" and the intense # 3 hit "Ain't No Sunshine." His second album, "Still Bill" was his most successful, yielding a #2 hit in the bossa nova inspired "Use Me," and a #1 in "Lean on Me," his ode to brotherhood.
His third album, "Live at Carnegie Hall," was a gritty celebration of an artist re-shaping his songs in front of an appreciative audience. Withers seemed perched on the precipice of singer/songwriter immortality when his fourth album "+ 'Justments" was released in 1974. But it wasn't to be. "+ 'Justments" didn't yield any top ten hits, in part because Withers personal life was withering - he was having marital problems with his wife, actress Denise Nicholas (Liz McIntire on "Room 222") and his record company, Sussex, was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Withers' music on "+ 'Justments" is sparse. He relies mostly on strings, the pluck of a harp or a Jack Bruce-like bass line by Melvin Dunlap, letting his lyrics set the tone.
The opening cut. "You," is the most vitriolic song Withers ever wrote, a funky diatribe with low rider bass lines, shivering strings and lyrics seemingly directed at Nicholas and Hollywood's party people: "I have a friend who knows your best friend; he's going some places she goes. He says he saw ya'll at a party, stuffin' white powder up your nose." With caustic comments like that, it's not surprising the single didn't chart and the album remained unissued on CD until this year.