William Bell, John Leventhal | SPACE | Blues, Gospel, and R&B | Chicago Reader
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click to enlarge William Bell

William Bell

David McClister

William Bell, John Leventhal All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Recommended Soundboard

When: Sat., June 4, 8 p.m. 2016
Price: $22-$42
The big PR hook for soul veteran William Bell’s terrific new album This Is Where I Live is that he’s back with Stax Records, where he launched his career in 1961 with the hit “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” It makes for good copy, I suppose, but these days Stax isn’t much more than a brand, with little connection to the paradigm-shaping Memphis label. What’s exciting, though, is that on his first new record in a decade the 76-year-old Bell sounds undiminished, and the album’s mostly new batch of songs are all worthy of his voice. Writing with coproducer John Leventhal, whose often-slick style doesn’t interfere, Bell meditates on romantic discord from the perspective of someone experienced but imperfect. With clear undertones of the Bell classic “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” the album’s opening ballad, “Three of Me,” is an exercise in the pains of taking stock, as the narrator must choose between who he was, who he is, and who he should be. That’s followed by “The House Always Wins,” a rear-view look at a doomed relationship. Throughout, Bell’s pitch command remains peerless as he tackles hooky melodies with ease and elegance; the album also includes a version of “Born Under a Bad Sign,” a Bell composition made famous by Albert King, and a countrified spin on Jesse Winchester’s empathic “All Your Stories.” “Walking on a Tightrope,” a heartening proclamation of devotion, was written by Leventhal and his wife, Rosanne Cash, but Bell owns it as much as anything he’s ever sung. This performance is one of only four scheduled U.S. dates.
— Peter Margasak

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