Verve should have waited awhile before sending Terry Callier's American recording contract into the dumper. Lookin' Out is the record Callier has been looking to make since he resumed recording in the '90s. It's a sprawling, 17-track set that accents all of his strengths. including his trademark songwriting style that effortlessly blends folk, pop, soul, and jazz. Callier surrounds himself with fine players here, including but not limited to organist Chris Kibble, (who co-wrote a number of tunes here), bassist Eric Hochberg, pianist Mike Kocour, alternate drummer Jeff Thomas, Morris Jennings, and Kahari Parker, and percussionist Pennington McGee. The set begins with an intro to the album's recurring thematic piece "Truth in Tears," featuring Callier's falsetto an whispering baritone above brief and subtle wash of strings before it slides almost imperceptibly into "Jazz My Rhythm and Blues," with its smoky saxophones, McGee's hand drumming, and David Onderdonk's shimmering guitar work as it is kissed by Kocour's graceful piano. Callier is in full jazz vocal here, slipping between registers, alternately speaking and singing and crooning. "We R One," is a sweet, elegant, spiritual song that is trademark Callier with its morally instructive and uplifting lyrics. He plays acoustic guitar as he sings and is backed by a pair of female vocalists on the choruses; together they carry the tune deep into a breezy yet supernatural, laid-back groove. The hard swinging "Midnite Mile," with its front line of electric guitar and dual saxophones, is heavy on the jazz tip, and one of the finest tunes Callier has written in decades. The cover of Dino Valente's (of Quicksilver Messenger Service) "What About Me (You Gonna Do About Me") is a complete re-visioning of the tune, carrying its socially conscious theme deep into soul-jazz territory and making it all the more effective in this day and age. And "Blues for Billie Holiday" (with Howard Levy on harmonica) is one of those Callier tunes in which the empathy for his subject softly and sweetly reveals the depth of the songwriter's compassion. No idle tribute, this song, with its weave of strings, harmonica, and dreamy backdrop conjuring the late singer's image, her gift, and her difficulties in life. He offers no apology, no romantic, patronizing flattery. In his simmering baritone with the grain exposed inside his soft phrasing, he offers the mark Holiday left on him. And in the midst of this pure, jazzy soul, Callier's "Truth in Tears," uncovers itself in five parts, uniting his protagonists, themes, concerns, and celebrations. Lookin' Out is a Callier masterpiece: restrained, elegant, grateful, profound, and simply beautiful.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek