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Album Review

Benny and Us resulted from a chance meeting in Miami between Ben E. King and the Average White Band, who were vacationing there just when King was starting work on a new album. The finished LP yielded two hit singles and became King's best-selling LP, rising to number 33. The sound is soulful and funky, very bright and passionate — the upbeat, relentlessly catchy "Get It Up for Love" and the soaring, horn and string driven "A Star in the Ghetto" made respectable showings on the R&B charts, and a good portion of the rest ("The Message," "What Is Soul") is pretty powerful stuff as well. "Imagine" is so busy and so self-consciously earnest that it's difficult to enjoy, but King is so good in the moments when he is on target, that it's hard to skip this track, even if it is the weakest number here. The radiant "Keepin' It to Myself" and the poignant cover of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free," by contrast, are among King's very best records. Benny and Us was a good enough record that it nearly led to a joint tour (as opposed to some joint appearances, which actually happened) between King and the Average White Band — one can only marvel at what those shows must have sounded like, and lament that fact that no live album was cut. It also marked King's last major appearance on the charts for Atlantic. To date, however, it's only available as an import from Sequel Records. That reissue, apart from excellent sound, also includes alternate edits of "Fool for You Anyway," "The Message," and, especially "Star in the Ghetto," including the 12" single version of the latter — all are worth hearing.


Formed: 1972 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Their self-effacing name to the contrary, Average White Band was anything but — one of the few white groups to cross the color line and achieve success and credibility playing funk, with their tight, fiery sound also belying their Scottish heritage, evoking American R&B hotbeds like Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia instead. Singer/bassist Alan Gorrie, guitarists Hamish Stuart and Onnie McIntyre, tenor saxophonist Malcolm Duncan, keyboardist/saxophonist Roger Ball, and drummer Robbie McIntosh...
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Benny & Us, Average White Band
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