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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Billy Preston: The Way I Am


1) Hope; 2) Good Life Boogie; 3) Keep On Truckin'; 4) A Change Is Gonna Come; 5) Lay Your Feelings On Me; 6) I Won't Mistreat Your Love; 7) Baby I'm Yours; 8) Until Then; 9) The Way I Am.

Whew, that was close. Try to ignore Billy's subtle hint on the album sleeve photo (about having just bought a poultry farm in Texas or something like that), and The Way I Am will successfully correct and purify the aura that Motown blew in around their unfortunate duet batch with Syreeta. At the very least, this album is not downright awful. It is predictably generic, and boring, and un­inspired, but it rarely aspires to something else.

Basically, the mascot of this here album is the cover of Sam Cooke's ʽA Change Is Gonna Comeʼ — a seriously belated tribute to one of Billy's major influences, done with competence, sincerity, and absolutely nothing else that would warrant its existence. The song is a great anthem for the ages, Billy Preston is a nice fifth Beatle, the keyboard inventory consists of a snowy organ in­stead of a Yamaha synthesizer — it's pretty hard to complain. It's probably the best cover of ʽA Change Is Gonna Comeʼ that was done in 1982, but I couldn't be sure, considering that 90% of black artists and 45% of white artists probably did it at least once in their lifetime.

Elsewhere, what we have is: an electronic disco instrumental (ʽGood Life Boogieʼ) with a techno­phile synth solo, a couple dance rockers with either a pop (ʽHopeʼ) or a funk (ʽKeep On Truckin'ʼ) undercurrent, some heavily orchestrated tender-hearted disco numbers à la ʽMore Like A Wo­manʼ (ʽBaby I'm Yoursʼ), an oddly out-of-place slide-driven country blues ballad (ʽUntil Thenʼ), and a pompous, pathetic, tear-gushing, string-flowing «Life-Will-Never-Be-The-Same-Once-I-Finally-Lay-This­-Shit-Down» power ballad (title track), which is probably unsalvageable, like most of the songs that have the artist explicitly sobbing into the microphone, spoiling both the expensive equipment and whatever emotional effect he could have triggered otherwise.

There is nothing whatsoever here worth hearing — it is not quite a successful retreat to Billy's late-1970s disco era standards, when there was that certain light, fluffy charm emanating from his kiddie melodies and his band trying to turn them into genuinely hot grooves. Overproduction, bombastic strings arrangements, obvious disinterest on the part of the backing players — it's all there, not to mention the album's being out-of-print for years. But in all honesty, it could have been much worse — if anything, the album and song title do give an indication that Billy is trying to revert to whatever it is he is used to do, and wants to do, instead of having to tag along with the kids, strutting his stuff to those hip electrofunk waves. From that point of view, we could even convince ourselves to forget, if not forgive, the cowboy hat and the open chest.


  1. There's a reason Billy looks so happy in that Village People cowboy getup. The way Billy was, was gay.

  2. Is there actually any proof of that?

  3. Actually, yes. Billy Preston was an openly gay black man at a time when being either one wasn't particularly safe. He didn't really talk about it publicly, but everybody who knew him says that it's the truth.

  4. I don't mean to disparage the man. Gay or not, he earned his place in the history books. I just found that cover photo so comical that I had to comment!

    Keith Richards, in his autobiography, confirms that Billy was gay.

  5. It puts the duet One more Try with Syreeta on the previous album in quite a different light.