Billy Paul – Ebony Woman [BBR]

Paul originally cut this album in 1970, before his mega-hit Me & Mrs Jones. It did reasonably well, especially in Detroit. But it was Billy Paul the jazz singer, rather than soul stylist and pop man. Its title track, written by Morris Bailey and first cut by Billy himself in 1959 on New Dawn Records, is by far its best track – a gorgeous, superbly sung ballad, a paean to the African-American female in a time of civil rights and social and political consciousness. Unfortunately a lot of the rest isn’t up to much.

Basically, it’s covers all the way, rapid versions of Me & Mrs Robinson, Sly Stone’s Everyday People, The Association’s Windy and Horace Silver’s Psychedelic Sally come and go, Paul investing lots of effort to no great purpose. True, Billy’s own contributions reveal him to be a singer of character and individuality, albeit one in need of some strong material to call his own. He was about to get it, of course and look what a difference it made.

Chris Wells 2/5