Billy Preston

Late at Night

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Motown was the perfect label for Billy Preston's late-'70s/early-'80s creativity, the Top Five "With You I'm Born Again" his biggest chart action since the string of hits he had for A&M in the early to mid-'70s. Pairing the Beatles/Rolling Stones keyboard player with Syreeta Wright on this glossy hit from the film Fast Break created a wondrous adult contemporary/gospel/rhythm & blues staple. The problem with the album Late at Night is that, outside of the hit, it is a recording, for the most part, lost in time. The title track and "All I Wanted Was You" are disco numbers, and even with Scherrie Payne of the latter day Supremes and Rolling Stones horn player Bobby Keyes on saxophone, this great artist squanders his talent on this limiting format, especially on the opening track "Give It Up, Hot." It's that same familiar voice, it's up-tempo and energetic, but half of the album also lacks identity. "You," on the other hand, closes out side one with startling urban pop. Yes, it has the Herman Melvin & the Blue Notes kind of dressing, but the song breaks through the trappings and could evolve as a pop hit with a different arrangement. Rita Coolidge worked Tom Snow's song with the same title the year before achieving chart action, and George Harrison went Top 20 in 1975 with yet another song titled "You." Billy Preston's co-write with Gloria Jones and Richard Jones could've followed suit. Side two continues the pop leanings of "You"; "It Will Come in Time" is a pure hybrid of Sly Stone's "Somebody's Watching You" flavored with Preston's own "Nothing From Nothing" beat. "I Come to Rest in You" sounds like it was written after Preston listened to "Georgia on My Mind" by Ray Charles. There's lots of musicians, and the album has lots of heart, but for an artist who graced the stage and is immortalized on the Concert for Bangla Desh album, he certainly had the opportunity to reinvent himself at Motown. Reuniting with Sly Stone, who worked with Preston on the Pickwick/Capitol release Organ Transplant, and maybe Stevie Wonder was what the doctor ordered, but the prescription just never got filled. Late at Night is not as much a bad effort as it is disappointing. It could have been so much more.

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