Clifford Coulter

The Better Part of Me

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Clifford Coulter was a soul-jazz and blues pianist who gradually moved more into urban R&B. His early recordings for the ABC label in the early '70s were full of a bright, sweet sound and were recommended listening for anybody interested in the funkier side of soul-jazz. This disc, cut in 1980 and produced by none other than Bill Withers, is a very commercial and radio-friendly set of funky soul. Coulter's writing and arranging are nice and tight and virtually full of singles -- it is a wonder he didn't score any with this. Music was as fickle a business coming out of the disc era as it is in the 21st century. Coulter's sound, while contemporary, is rooted in the soul balladry of an earlier time. His songwriting is top-notch and his session players, who include Withers, Russ Kunkel, Ronnie Beck, Jerry Perez, and others, are empathetic on tunes like the mellow grooving opener, "Don't Wanna See You Cry," and "Magic Carpet Ride" (not that one). On ballads such as "Nothing in the World Is Free," Coulter's own singing wrenches emotion out of a slick soul tune and puts it in the listener's breadbasket. This is as fine a specimen of urban soul as there was at the time. It should have been a smash.

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