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Monday
Feb212011

WILLIE WRIGHT - Telling the Truth

For Willie Wright to have recorded a spare soul-drenched folk album in a single-day session in 1977 New York, it’s hard to imagine he was hoping for renown stretching beyond the night spots and Nantucket yacht clubs where the travelling musician played at and sold this, his second album. 

Like many singers of his generation, Wright got his start in doo-wop groups before falling into the folk scene and recording an album in 1963 on Argo Folk, a subsidiary of Chess Records. In the intervening years between that album and Telling The Truth, he seemed to have developed a taste for faux island rhythms to add zest to his often meditative atmospheric folk. The arrangements here are super-lean, usually boasting little more than guitar commentary from The Jimmy Castor Bunch’s Harry Jensen, hippy-dippy flute, and light percussion with the occasional funky rhythm section on the more swinging tunes. Call it spiritual folk jazz, an unusual descriptor for sure, but one that only applies to a few 1970s artists, including Terry Callier, Jon Lucien, John Martyn, Eugene McDaniels, and Gil Scott-Heron. 

Not all is on the esoteric end of things: "I’m So Happy Now" swings nicely with the help of his daughter Sheila on vocals, while "Nantucket Island" ends up slightly more Caribbean than it should considering its subject, but so what? "Love is Expensive" brings a touch of reggae bounce, and on "Lady of the Year" and "Son, Don’t Let Life Pass You By", he’s a dead ringer for Lou Rawls. But it was his take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Right On For Darkness” that first caught attention of collectors. Not only is it included here on disc, but it’s also thrown in as a bonus functional 5" (!) vinyl single, backed with the self-identity-probing "Africa". 

Of course, this sold like hotcakes at dinnertime—a nice idea, but a bit on the later side of timing. Wright disappeared further into obscurity, never to record again, although the opportunity did arise in 1981 for another New York City session. (He never bothered to show up.) Diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he still writes today, but is long retired from live performance, so don’t hold your breath for a comeback.

Reader Comments (1)

I'm writing to let you know that soul music's "mystery man," the enigmatic Willie Wright, famed for his funky 1970 cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Right on for the Darkness,” has just released a new album, his first in 35 years.
His 1977 classic, "Telling the Truth" was re-issued last year, as the above item details.
The re-issue got very positive response from soul fans and new listeners; "Good Morning America" featured one of the tunes ("I'm So Happy") from it on May 7, 2011, and the first pressing of the re-issue sold out in a matter of weeks. All of this inspired Willie to ease temporarily out of retirement, assemble a new band with some old friends in Burlington, Vermont, and create this collection.
The new album, all recent, original compositions by Mr. Wright, is called “This is Not a Dream.” It was released by Green Coil Records in Burlington, Vermont, U.S.A. on April 24, 2012. 
You can hear some of the new tunes see some videos and read the complete liner notes at www.williewrightmusic.com
He is now 73 years old, living in Providence, Rhode Island, and copes with advanced Parkinson's, but can still make arrestingly beautiful music with his characteristically thoughtful lyrics. His "smooth as warm butter" voice is still powerful, although at the same time it now reveals a more fragile and emotional side than in his early career.
Given that he is not able to gig or tour in support of the album, we are depending on reviews and word of mouth to promote it - please give a listen and let us know what you think.
Thank you
Bob Green
Green Coil Records

June 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBob Green

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