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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Billy Preston: A Whole New Thing


BILLY PRESTON: A WHOLE NEW THING (1977)

1) Whole New Thing; 2) Disco Dancin'; 3) Complicated Sayings; 4) Attitudes; 5) I'm Really Gonna Miss You; 6) Wide Stride; 7) You Got Me Buzzin'; 8) Sweet Marie; 9) Happy; 10) Touch Me Love; 11) You Don't Have To Go.

When Sly Stone, Billy's good friend and old-time mentor, titled his debut album A Whole New Thing back in 1967, this was sort of understandable — it might not have been the most innova­tive album of the year, given all the fierce competition, but at least it was a new thing, whole or partial. When, ten years later, Billy himself named his far-from-first album A Whole New Thing, it only served to exacerbate the differences between a rough, but active genius like Sly and a pleasant, but mediocre chap like Billy. Most likely, the title simply refers to the disco wave — even though this was already Billy's second album in that stylistics, and the disco movement it­self was far from a «whole new thing» in mid-1977 (although, granted, the album was released about half a year prior to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack).

Anyway, this is an even less impressive / memorable affair than Billy Preston, even though it is almost equally likeable while it's on, and for the same reason: no slick, stiffening overproduction. Even the cheesiest entry, conveniently named ʽDisco Dancin'ʼ, features perfectly normal organ backing, perfectly lively string countermelodies, and a perfectly hearty Latin percussion break — so the tune could only be «condemned» from a purely ethical point of view (as in, "it is morally pernicious to sing songs about the joys of disco dancin'... try to be properly spiritual and choose ʽBlitz­krieg Bopʼ instead"). And songs that are not at all «lyrically defiant» — title track; ʽYou Got Me Buzzin'ʼ, etc. — are unimpeachable whatsoever. Which is not to say that there is any­thing particularly insightful to be remarked about them.

There are two instrumentals, of which the briefer ʽAttitudesʼ features some nice two-piano spar­ring between Billy and another keyboard player, while the lengthier ʽWide Strideʼ indulges in lite fusion with some free-flowing synth improv. There are a couple of obligatory ballads, too, of which ʽI'm Really Gonna Miss Youʼ is the more soulful, but less engaging one, and ʽSweet Ma­rieʼ is the lushier-sexier one, and probably, by a tiny margin, the best song on the album.

The credit list, this time around, features next to no celebrities, unless one counts Marc Bolan's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Gloria Jones on backing vocals, and... uh... percussionist Ollie Brown who appears on the Stones' Love You Live album as Charlie's aide-de-camp. Not surprisingly, not a single instrumental part ever stands out bar Billy's own — not that anything needs to stand out, because almost everything on here was designed as entertaining dance fodder, with no seri­ous ambitions whatsoever. (Actually, at the time Billy was saving his serious ambitions for a sepa­rate line of pure-gospel albums — the first one, Behold, would come out only a year later. However, the fact that this line is frequently omitted from published discographies is quite telling; supposedly, if you want late 1970s Billy, you will do better with Billy the disco dancer than Billy the Lord's man).

2 comments:

  1. How did this guy ever manage to release this many albums? For my money he did his best stuff as part of the Shindig house band. I guess being friends with The Beatles didn't hurt.

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    1. I agree that Billy's best moments were as a sideman to the Beatles and Stones. I'll give him a couple of choice solo cuts ("Nothing From Nothing", a few others), but there's no denying he's just not that compelling on his own.

      However, if I had to choose between 15 Billy Preston solo albums and 1 Britney Spears album, it's pretty clear that I'm going with Billy. You can put the (used to have a huge)Afro Man on in the background without vomiting every so often at a terrible pun or an auto-tuned chorus.

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