Bell lifts Stax’s soul game
Album of the week
Stax was the label where William Bell made a name for himself as a soulman. Indeed, you could say that Bell, a soul singer with a warm timbre and a penchant for sublime, emotional arrangements, helped define what the Memphis institution was all about, with songs such as You Don’t Miss Your Water in the early 1960s.
Both singer and label have had their ups and downs ever since. After a spell in the US army, Bell became one of the Stax soldiers, a writer and a singer who never quite got to shine as brightly as his peers. The label had many good days until the mid-1970s when quality began to slide, hits dried up and bankruptcy came a-knocking.
After a couple of decades as a reissue shop, Stax has resumed working with acts in the last couple of years, scoring hits with Nathaniel Rateliff and Ben Harper. The decision to work with Bell again is a great move, and not just from a legacy and heritage point of view. Be assured This Is Where I Live is a record that would deserve your attention regardless of the back-story.
Here is a singer with a fine voice weaving a spell on songs which are full of distinctive takes on universal topics. Opening track The Three of Me is a great example of this, Bell looking at how he was, how he is and how he will be in life. The warm, evocative, impeccable playing around Bell here and on tracks such as All Your Stories and
Walking on a Tightrope ensure a timeless listen. Bell wrote Born Under a Bad
Sign with Booker T Jones back in 1967 and Albert King was the first of many to colour it in. Here, he reclaims it and makes it his own again with panache and grace. This Is Where I Live is a record of authentic southern soul created with a lot of love and attention. williambell.com
WILLIAM BELL This Is Where I Live ★★★★ Stax