Wednesday, 29 January 2020

The Average White Band

These seventies Scottish funkers served up some quality albums....

Show Your Hand (1973)
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.

Anyway, on to this album. The Jugglers is a lively upbeat funk number to kick things off with. It uses the guitar and drum sound that the band would come to utilise so much over the next few years. A nice inventive saxophone solo is to be found in the middle too. This World Has Music is a catchy song with good soulful vocals from both lead vocalists, Alan Gorrie and Hamish Stuart, more fine saxophone and a sumptuous, melodic bass line. It sounds like it would have been a good single, and indeed it was, but you just can’t imagine it being a hit in amongst all that glam rock in 1973. Twilight Zone is an impressive, laid-back soul number. A notable thing about this album is that most of its eight songs are around the five minute mark, quite long, something else that went against the contemporary grain. I have to say, though, that the quality of the musicianship is superb. Put It Where You Want It is six minutes plus of mature, impressive tuneful funk-pop. I can only reiterate that it is difficult to see how this fitted in to the zeitgeist of 1973. It would have been fine in the eighties, however, so maybe it was ten years ahead of its time. Once again, Roger Ball’s saxophone is excellent on this track.

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.

AWB (1974)
1973-74 was a period of glam rock’s embers still glowing, prog rock noodling around strongly, the early strains of disco, and Philly soul. Hardly fertile ground for a Scottish soul band to emerge, one would have thought. This band were to prove otherwise, however.

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

You Got It and Got The Love are both tuneful, immaculate-sounding numbers the quality of which makes them sound ahead of their time, like something from the eighties rather than the mid-seventies. The vibe is that polished and slick. Person To Person drips with funky guitar licks, fatback drums and a great vocal from Hamish Stuart (vocals were shared across the tracks with Alan Gorrie). Work To Do is a cover of an Isley Brothers’ song from their Brother, Brother, Brother early seventies album. AWB’s version is pretty faithful to the original, just as funky and brassy. Nothin’ You Can Do is a classic slice of bassy seventies soul. This description applies even more to the sumptuous Just Want To Love You Tonight. This time it is Gorrie on vocals and most striking they are too.

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.

Cut the Cake (1975)
This follow up album to the successful AWB, in 1975, offered more of the same excellent white funk-soul. 

Beginning with the minor hit single of Cut The Cake, an impossibly funky, brass-driven groove with occasional, somewhat indistinct vocals, the track has a fabulous funky beat that is followed by an absolutely enticing rubbery bass line backing on School Boy Crush. Both of these are thoroughly captivating tracks, immaculately played music that was far more than simply chart fare.

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. 

When They Bring Down The Curtain is wonderfully soulful, it reminds me quite a lot of Ace, a vaguely similar rock-soul band from the same era. Disappointingly, the album didn't sell that well, not in the UK anyway, although it did very well in the USA, where they had a large African-American following. Once again, I have to say that the music on here was impressively mature and in so many ways ahead of its contemporaries.

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)

This was an excellent collaboration between the AWB and legendary Drifters vocalist Ben E. King. Although only eight tracks in length, it is a thoroughly worthwhile listen. It sort of slipped under many people's radar at the time, certainly in the UK, although it was successful in the USA, where the band had a much bigger fanbase. King's vocals are certainly not in the Drifters/Stand By Me style - he copes with several soul sub-genres admirably. It actually became his best-selling album.

Get It Up For Love is a nice, deep funky opener, with a disco-funk vibe to it - lots of “chicka-chicka” guitars and a solid vocal from King and the band's members. It merges a catchiness with a gritty, cookin' funk. Fool For You Anyway slows down the pace on a classic piece of seventies soul with a real, polished Philly feel to it. King's vocal is effortlessly impeccable on this. A Star In The Ghetto, a Philip Mitchell song, is one of the album’s standout tracks - six and a half minutes of copper-bottomed soulful funk with a Blaxploitation-style string backing and a general Blax ambience overall. Quality stuff. Once again, King’s adapts his vocal to the song’s demands perfectly. There are elements of James Brown in his delivery at times on this one as he improvises. There is also that irresistible hookiness about it that makes it so attractive.

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.

Shine (1980)

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.

Our Time Has Come is a slick, fast-paced piece of disco-influenced soul. It has an Earth, Wind & Fire feel to it, particularly in the vocal harmonies. For You, For Love is a smooth, easy listening soul ballad with more EW&F influences. The big hit single from the album was the incredibly catchy Let's Go Round Again. It is full of the vibes of soul 1980-style and helps to remind you that not everything in 1980 was punk, new wave or ska - stuff like this was all over the place.

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.

Check out the afore-mentioned and influential Tower Of Power's work here :-

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