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Anteater 06-30-2011 12:40 PM

I Just Can't Help Myself: The Wonderful Discography Of Terry Callier


I can’t tell you when...
But someday soon we’ll see the sun reborn again.
And there’ll be light without
As well as light within.
And occasional rain...

- Terry Callier, from 'Occasional Rain' (1972)

Imagine growing up in Chicago's North Side back in the 50's and 60's, fermenting in a barrel of new ideas and creativity against a landscape littered with racism, poverty, and the endless surges of back-and-forth dilapidation between American mainstream identity and the various counterculture movements that were seen as either poison or the key to positive change depending on where you stood.

Along with guys such as Jerry Butler, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield, Terry Callier was one particularly talented fellow who grew up in the Chicago projects and struggled to make sense out of what he saw around him, things which would propel him to become a musician even as friends and foes alike would go on to far more visible careers.

However, unlike Mayfield and quite a few other Motown heavyweights, he's also one of the few classic soul masters of the golden age who still performs and writes new material today in the post-2000's, growing wiser and even more accomplished in his 50+ year craft even as his contemporaries have died, quit the business or fizzled out into the void.

Folk, jazz, soul, romance and that endlessly permutating thing we call the blues - these are the sonic elements that Callier has used since seeming time immemorial (or the early 60's til 2011 to be exact) to speak out against injustice and conflict in the world we live in, elements of society which retain their tenacity and relevance no matter which epoch you claim to hail from or which musical trends you have been indoctrinated by.

You guys know Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Gil Scott-Heron, John Martyn, Nick Drake, and other individuals who are endlessly praised or referenced for their contributions to soul, jazz, funk, folk, etc. and the pursuit of emotional, spiritual or otherwise, truth. Now it's time to get to know another.

Starting from today, I will review the discography of the guy who was always left out in the cold. The mystic who preceded the greats and yet outlives them. The man whom I personally feel has never gotten the due he deserves from people who should know better.

Welcome, ladies and gents of MusicBanter, to the musical universe of Terry Callier.

Anteater 07-01-2011 11:31 AM

The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier (1964)

1. 900 Miles (5:05)
2. Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be (2:55)
3. Johnny Be Gay If You Can Be (4:23)
4. Cotton Eyed Joe (5:26)
5. It's About Time (3:31)
6. Promenade In Green (4:05)
7. Spin Spin Spin (3:08)
8. I'm A Drifter (8:52)
9. Be My Woman (5:22)
10. Jack O' Diamonds (5:36)
11. The Golden Apples Of The Sun (6:36)

In a time where The Beatles, Beach Boys and Bob Dylan were revving up this own careers into what would be later looked back upon as legendary, a scarcely 20 year-old (!!) Terry Callier takes a bunch of traditional blues, Americana and folk songs and turns them into expeditions of pure, unfiltered atmosphere with his ridiculously powerful voice on his debut record The New Folk Sound Of.. , and even five decades later it remains as good an entry point as any into this troubadour's career.

Still, moreso than anything Terry Callier would do until the late 90's, this is undoubtably his bluesiest and least embellished set of cuts. Even at this tentative stage in his career, the difference between this record and its contemporaries is remarkable: the starkness of Callier acoustics, which even on its own is almost hypnotizing, is multiplied in potency when you couple it with his dominating and almost unbelievably acute tenor - if songs such as 'Cotton Eyed Joe' and the Judy Collins standard 'The Golden Apples Of The Sun' are big towels that have been completely soaked in untapped emotion, then Callier wrings them til they're dry as desert bones.

This record also foreshadows, at least to an extent, that Callier isn't afraid to tackle longer material if he's capable of doing something interesting with it. 'I'm A Drifter', New Folk Sound's focal point of sorts, mesmerizes for nearly 9 minutes via guitar, voice and a plucky double bass behind the curtain, wandering much like its titular character as the groove deepens and you settle in for the ride.

So all in all, a very accomplished starting point for a career that would only get better from here on out. Hell, I'd say the only strikes one might have against the record would be the fact that its rather uniform in mood and overall feel throughout its hour length run, though Callier would fix that by his next record and first all-originals masterpiece, 1972's Occasional Rain.

However, if you've got an appetite for raw soulful blues with an almost otherworldly sense of atmosphere (or if you just love the 60's), The New Folk Sound Of Terry Callier should be your first stop as a prospective listener.

Anteater 07-08-2011 09:14 PM

Occasional Rain (1972)

1. Segue #1 - Go Ahead On (0:38)
2. Ordinary Joe (4:19)
3. Golden Circle (3:33)
4. Segue #5 - Go Ahead On (0:38)
5. Trance On Sedgewick Street (6:17)
6. Do You Finally Need A Friend (5:42)
7. Segue #4 - Go Head On (0:38)
8. Sweet Edie-D (5:00)
9. Occasional Rain (4:33)
10. Segue #2 - Go Head On (0:38)
11. Blues For Marcus (3:29)
12. Lean On Me (6:28)
13. Last Segue - Go Ahead On (0:38)

Although Callier's folksy blues-laden debut received a lukewarm response from the world at large, the absence of stardom didn't deter our burgeoning mystic from writing and expanding his own horizons as an artist: if anything, the cold reception only spurred him on to push the envelope.

In 1970, hoping for an opportunity to break into the music industry, Callier and his recording partner Larry Wade were taken in under the wing of the Chicago Songwriters Workshop and ended up crafting a couple of hits over the next year or so, including 'The Love We Had Stays on My Mind' by The Dells. It was through this that Callier met producer Charles Stepney, a well known associate of soul ensemble Rotary Connection and soon-to-be soulstress superstar Minnie Riperton.

In 1972, the two teamed up to help Callier up his game to the level that he wanted in the form of Occasional Rain, the first of several collaborations which would last several classics more until the end of the 70's.

After a strummed-up monologue from Callier, we're led into the first song proper and signature tune 'Ordinary Joe', a minor Northern Soul classic. It's a gorgeous little jaunt, bubbling along a great one-note keyboard line set against a lamenting melancholy -- an ordinary guy who can't seem to fight against his limitations and envies the birds above who are flying free, unobligated and unbeset by prejudice from those around them.

Beyond that opening number, the album itself marks a noticeable leap in both Terry's songwriting and willingness to sonically embellish: strings and keys and more varied instrumental touches in general are a fixture to the songs here, and although the effect maybe be a tad too baroque for some folks, it clicks together like hot fudge and ice cream more often than not.

Fundamentally, despite his newfound orchestral fetish, the blues remain this record's foundation. Whether its urban decadence bled to the tune of a cello and guitar in 'Trance On Sedgewick Street' or the downtempo jazziness of 'Do You Finally Need A Friend', there's plenty of gorgeous languidity to reflect upon (not unlike Nick Drake's classic material).

The title track, however, is where heaven itself seems to emanate and become audible. Stark, tranquil and heartbreaking - the psychedelic organ, the guitar, and Callier's voice have found paradise in their soliloquy for all the world.

It's hard to believe, in some respects, that this was only Callier's second record: many artists could strive entire decades and still not craft a single song that comes close to the sheer depth of feeling born in these compositions.

When the party noise dies down and people are left alone in their spaces, they'd probably do themselves a favor in seeking out Occasional Rain. Perhaps then the light and stability they seek inside but do not hold won't seem so far from their eyes.

This is the essence of sound without time and a voice that speaks to the soul of what you are. Possibly more...but nothing less.

Stephen 09-22-2021 01:59 AM

Only 10 years late but currently enjoying What Color is Love. Might have to look into his discog.

Lisnaholic 09-22-2021 04:53 PM

Thanks for bringing this guy to my attention, Anteater and Stephen. I'd never heard of him til I read this thread this morning. He sounds like a really talented guy.
I have to confess that when "Drifter" started, I thought, "Do I really want 9 mins of this?", but it wasn't long before TC had swept me up with his powerful sombre singing.

DianneW 09-23-2021 03:19 AM

Same here, will enjoy listening through his tracks this morning.
... Time on my hands, listening to some tunes that are often way off my list.. stick through to the end...sometimes something so different hits you and another string added to your that. Obviously with Terry Callier it is a walk in the park..can even use it as background music... whilst not enjoying the chores....

rubber soul 09-23-2021 08:10 AM

Will have to delve into his discography more as well. Good choice, Anteater.

Guybrush 09-24-2021 10:27 AM

I am also intrigued. Keep it up, Ants!

Anteater 09-24-2021 12:06 PM

I'll fix up the older posts and continue the discography analysis. :)

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