This was The Average White Band’s debut album, and it was one that slipped under the radar somewhat, which was a bit of a shame as there was some quality material on there. I have mentioned this in more detail on the review of band’s next album, but even more so than in 1974, funk rock was hardly de rigeur in the UK music scene so the emergence of this band of Scottish funk rockers was surprising, to say the least. They broke big with the instrumental chart hit Pick Up The Pieces in the following year.
Show Your Hand suffers from a bit of a muddy sound at the beginning, although otherwise it is a gentle offering of quiet but lively, poppy soul. Like the other tracks it is all most appealing. Back In 67 is a vaguely reggae-influenced number that talks of the band’s history on the road. Reach Out is a guitar and horns-driven piece of punchy, bluesy soul. TLC ends the album with over eight minutes of infectious, insistent funky soul, featuring some intoxicating drums and another killer bass line. There are hints of Traffic’s soul-rock workouts on this one.
This was a convincing first album, but, as I said earlier, it belonged a decade later, musically.
The Average White Band were from Dundee. They were, as their name suggests, a white soul-funk band. However, they were a little bit more than just average. This was their second album, and most impressive it was too. It contained the hit single, the instrumental Pick Up The Pieces, but the rest of the album features vocals, and is jam packed full of laid back soul-funk of the highest quality. For an album from 1974, the sound quality is also exceptionally good. It was surprisingly that with so many strong, catchy soul songs on the album, many of which would have made fine singles, that they chose an instrumental. They obviously made the right choice, though, as it was a huge hit, rich with catchy, infectious hooks that made it an instrumental that one could sing along to. The general sound of the album is that of gentle funky guitars, solid drumming, late night soulful vocals and a nice, punchy but melodic brass groove. The nearest comparison that can be made is possibly to the sound of multi-racial US funk-soul band Tower Of Power.
Keepin’ To Yourself is so convincing in its Philly-ish sound it could almost be Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, The O’Jays or Blue Magic. There are touches of The Detroit Spinners about it too. I Just Can’t Give You Up is also very O’ Jays in its rhythmic, funky feel. Check out that guitar solo half way through. The final track, There’s Always Someone Waiting is the deepest piece of funk on the album, featuring some excellent wah-wah guitar and mysterious-sounding percussion.
This was certainly a fine album. Unfortunately, drummer Robbie McIntosh died from a heroin overdose a few months after this album’s release. I vaguely remember reading about it at the time. I was fourteen-fifteen and while I liked the single, did not know too much else about the band.
This follow up album to the successful AWB, in 1975, offered more of the same excellent white funk-soul.
This is addictive funk, and, if anything, this album is even more funky than its predecessor. These two opening tracks drip, sweat and smoulder with it. Can the vibe be continued? It sure can. It's A Mystery has another deep funky backing (just listen to that bass) - the stuff on here has an earthiness to it, despite the sweet soul feel of the laid-back vocals. A nice saxophone solo enhances the track too. Incidentally, Steve Ferrone was now on drums (he went on to later join Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and play session drums on many other albums, including Chaka Khan, George Harrison and Eric Clapton).
Groovin' The Night Away is an upbeat piece of party funk. Disco was on the way, remember and the group were getting in on that particular act as well as funk. If I Ever Lose This Heaven, a Pam Sawyer song originally recorded in 1973 by Quincy Jones, is a solid chugger of a number. Once again the backing is warm and funky. The mood gets a little more romantic on the soothing saxophone-enhanced soul of Why, but it doesn't take long for some jazzy funk to return on the sublime High Flyin' Woman. The track features some killer wah-wah guitar licks. Cloudy is a slow-paced serving of evening soul. How Sweet Can You Get? has a bit of a feel of Steely Dan about its brassy soul/rock ambience and indeed its vocal.
Apparently there was a lot of tension within the band on the recording of this album, no doubt due to the recent passing of drummer Robbie McIntosh and also the dreaded "artistic and creative differences", but you would never have guessed it, listening to it - it is as smooth as silk, full of energy and seeming enthusiasm. They did well covering up any mournful moods. Legendary soul-funk producer Arif Mardin was about to pull the plug at once stage but, fortunately he persevered with the task. As I said, it came out sounding really polished. I also have to make the point that the sound quality on the album is absolutely top notch.
Benny And Us (1977)
The Message Is Love sees a return to muscular funk, full of wah-wah guitars. Its bass line is beautifully deep and the rhythm intoxicating. Proper funk. What Is Soul kicks ass too, big time, with another James Brown-esque vocal over a punchy funk beat, once more it is strong, industrial funky fare. It is time for a change in pace now, for the George Benson-Luther Vandross style soul of Someday We’ll All Be Free. This was a cover of a Donny Hathaway song. It features a sublime saxophone solo too.
Covers of John Lennon's Imagine were, unfortunately ten-a-penny in 1977 (and probably ever since) and although this one is eminently soulful and full of great saxophone breaks, as you would expect, there was probably not much need for another soul artist-band covering the song. They'd all done it, hadn't they? Actually, though, I can't help but like it. The breezy, bright Keepin' It To Myself is a reliable slice of seventies soul to finish off with. It has a bit of Al Green about it. This was a really good album, demonstrating a variety of funk-soul styles and deservedly was reasonably successful. The band would drop off the radar for a while after this, however, before experiencing something of a renaissance in the eighties.
After several credible albums of funky white soul in the mid-seventies this 1980 album was possibly their last critically-acclaimed one, although it alienated a lot of their soul-funk fans with its mix of smooth, late-night smoochy soul and unthreatening disco rhythms.
Watcha Gonna Do For Me? is another slice of sweet soul and Into The Night is an instrumental that has the feel of a cop show soundtrack. Catch Me (Before I Have To Testify) is a disco stomper that sounds like EW&F meeting Shalamar. Help Is On The Way is another upbeat groover. If Love Only Lasts For One Night is late-night soul by numbers while Shine is an appealing funk-soul number. All this album's material is pleasant enough, but it just washes over you and lacks the funky edge that the earlier albums had.
** The non-album track Wasn't I Your Friend is by far the funkiest cut from the sessions and should have made the album.