Terry Callier

Occasional Rain
What Color Is Love

Occasional Rain (MCA 72) Rating: A
I first heard the powerful baritone voice of Terry Callier on "Pass In Time," an excellent duet with Beth Orton that appeared on her Central Reservation album. After that great performance I wanted to hear more, so I picked up a few of his albums, and truth be told The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier, recorded in 1964 but released (to indifference) in 1968, still hasn't really grabbed me yet. His second album, Occasional Rain, recorded over half a decade later, was a different story, however, as it's an absolute masterpiece. Although classifiable as a "singer-songwriter," Callier's mix of folk, jazz, soul, and pop is difficult to describe, though I'd recommend it to fans of mystical Van Morrison albums such as Veedon Fleece, as this album's atmospheric, spacious sound is similarly intimate and timeless. Song-wise, this ballad-heavy collection begins with "Go Ahead On," which appears throughout the album (five times in all), never lasting more than 53 seconds. This folksy song is so good that I kinda wish it wasn't broken up, but its reappearance is always most welcome, and these segues add ambiance and an overall cohesiveness to the album. "Ordinary Joe" comes next, and damn if this isn't a perfect pop song; in a just world it would've been a massive hit, and the high quality continues with "Golden Circle," a lovely piano ballad perfect for late night listening. The evocative gospel backing choir, which greatly enhances several songs here, really hits the spot, and "Trance On Sedgewick Street" is also terrific, its lush orchestrations (which occasionally accompany the album's primary instruments of piano and acoustic guitar) perhaps recalling Bryter Layter era Nick Drake but with a powerhouse soul singer. Callier really lets loose vocally on "Do You Finally Need A Friend," holding nothing back, before the lighter, upbeat pop of "Sweet Edie-D" provides a highly enjoyable if somewhat fluffy change of pace. Indeed, if I could complain about this album I'd say that maybe "Trance..." and "...Friend" are a little long, it's slow paced and lacks variety, and that "Blues For Marcus," like "Sweet Edie-D," is merely very good rather than great. Still, the title track is beautiful beyond words, and Terry shows that he knows how to close things out, saving the best for last, "Lean On Me" (no, not the hit song from the also underrated but far more commercially successful Bill Withers). Hammond organ and piano set the stage, and those harmonies sure are haunting, but it's Callier's vocal-for-the-ages that really makes the song special. I dig the inspiring lyrics, too, but again it's Callier's performance on this song that convinced me that he's one of the best singers ever. It's enough to make a man find religion, really it is, and the album's intensely moving, highly intimate sense of spirituality is perhaps its greatest overall asset (aside from that voice, of course). Really, I can't say enough about this stunning album or its creator, who deserves far more acclaim and attention than he's received, despite the best efforts of a small but devoted cult following. Anyway, I may or may not review some of his other albums (it's not like there's a major demand for Terry Callier reviews), but either way I'd unreservedly recommend Occasional Rain, one of the best albums of the early 1970s, as an ideal starting point.

What Color Is Love (MCA 73) Rating: A
Then again, this fantastic follow up album also does the trick. What Color Is Love includes only seven mostly long songs, and again I can't help but think that if Nick Drake was a soul singer who had a more free flowing songwriting style (again think Van The Man in spiritual mode or maybe Marvin Gaye circa Hear, My Hear), he might sound a bit like Terry Callier (who vocally reminds me a bit of Chicago's Robert Lamm). Featuring a sexy, provocative album cover and superbly produced and arranged by Charles Stepney, the album begins with what may be Callier's best known song in the 9-minute, multi-sectioned "Dancing Girl." And man this one is difficult to describe, but words like "jazzy," "spacey," "epic," "progressive," "elegant," "impressionistic," and "mesmerizing" come to mind. Sure, it is a bit slow going and repetitive at times, but that is kind of the point too, both here and elsewhere, as Callier uses repetition to allow the song to build to a hypnotic intensity. The gorgeous title track is more modest and delivers more impressive late night mood music (critic Robert Webb called it "an undisputed supper-club classic"), while "You Goin' Miss Your Candyman" (obviously he's the candyman) is another intensely repetitive and free flowing highlight that's musically aided by inventive bongo percussion and blaring horns. "Just As Long As We're In Love" should've been a hit, as its airy female-aided '70s soft soul chorus (though by contrast the verses see Callier as intense as ever) would've been the envy of any of the Philly soul groups who were lighting up the U.S. charts at the time. It being the early '70s, "Ho Tsing Me (A Song Of The Sun)" is the album's obligatory anti-war song, and a moving one at that, while "I'd Rather Be With You" is the obligatory "I miss you while I'm out on the road" song. Still, it is Callier's gift that you 100% believe him and are heartbroken for him, and the strings, horns, and harmonica accompaniment hit all the right pleasure points as well. In fact, it's a testament to the lushly inviting music on this album that its last song, "You Don't Care," doesn't even feature Callier's vocals yet is still great due to its sumptuous music and another airy female chorus. On the whole, this album is difficult to classify ("jazzy folk soul"?), but it is a decidedly romantic (some would say "corny" at times) and passionate affair that, like Occasional Rain before it, is a truly great yet distressingly overlooked album that by all rights should've made Callier a star.

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