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360 Degrees of Billy Paul

Billy Paul

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Album Review

Paul's first album for Philadelphia International was straight club jazz — sales were slow. This time, Gamble & Huff gave Paul material strong enough to make his sophomore release a viable commercial entity. "Brown Baby" speaks of people of color making their parents and others proud, and the message is positive and correct. "I'm Just a Prisoner" is real but would have been better served without the string section. It's a stark depiction of a man who has served five years and is contemplating his future. It is about the unsettling fact that he's just a prisoner. Its chilling chorus tells it all — "The cell is cold as hell/you'll never get use to the smell/my bed is hard as wood/I got to fight to keep my manhood." The riveting saga doesn't just end — the fade is lengthy and features a dejected Paul woefully mourning about the conditions, the situation, and the turmoil of prison life. He sounds believable and frustrated belting "Me & Mrs. Jones," a classic that many relate to, and those who don't have no problem being down with the passionate singing and clawing lyrics describing the unapologetic infidelity. His "It's Too Late" is a fine rendition of Carole King's classic. You might not recognize "Let's Stay Together," popularized by Al Green. Paul does it MOR/jazz style, with a lot of improvising before crooning the original lyrics. It shows versatility, but people who bought "Jones" probably didn't appreciate it. A version of Elton John's "Your Song" introduced the Britisher to fans of soul music. Vince Montana's magical vibes punctuate the rhythm, which turns into a lightweight gospel revival. "Am I Black Enough for You" fit in with the times of overt black consciousness, a social message moved along by a perky bongo and clavinet-dominated beat and well-spaced, brassy horn hits. A too staid "I'm Gonna Make It This Time," co-written by Bunny Sigler, marked Paul's second adventure in urban, club jazz on 360 Degrees; this one has bite, and Paul sings it with fire. The 2002 CD reissue on Epic/Legacy adds a live version of "Me and Mrs. Jones" from Paul's 1974 Live in Europe album.

Biography

Born: 01 December 1935 in Philadelphia, PA

Genre: R&B/Soul

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Billy Paul had a good run in the '70s as an R&B vocalist, though he'd been recording since the '50s, when he debuted on Jubilee. Paul was featured on radio broadcasts in Philadelphia at age 11 and had an extensive jazz background. He worked with Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, and Roberta Flack, as well as Charlie Parker, before forming a trio and recording for Jubilee. His original 1959 recording of "Ebony Woman" for New Dawn was later re-recorded for Neptune as the title of his 1970 LP. He signed...
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