Funk was never an understated entity in Bill Withers’ sound. Though he was known as a singer-songwriter troubadour, whose homegrown soul and truth-telling affirmations struck a profound chord, he had a unique ear for a groove. Whether steeped in a chorus’ hard-hitting backbeat during a breakdown (see “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”), or the musical pulse of a song altogether (“Use Me,” “Heartbreak Road, “Railroad Man,” “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)?” and countless others), Withers and his backing musicians embraced funk’s rhythmic urgency and propulsive flair. It drove his message home while leavening its emotional gravity. But with one listen to Naked & Warm, Withers’ sixth studio album and second outing on Columbia Records, it’s clear he reshaped the earthier modes of his original sound with a sleeker identity at the midpoint of the 1970s.
BY BRANDON OUSLEY
JUNE 28, 2020