It's easy to like someone who sings of truth, peace, freedom, justice and love, and Terry Callier rarely sings about anything else. As a performer, he wears his heart on his sleeve to a degree that might seem unwise were he not such a moral, even positively biblical, presence. Only the news that Tel likes to unwind after a show by torturing kittens could dampen our evangelical enthusiasm. And try as you might to resist the sometimes sentimental communion between artist and audience that a Callier show inevitably ends up becoming, you can't without risking selling your own humanity short.
Basically, Callier should be cherished, like love itself. With Curtis Mayfield, Callier's Chicago contemporary, no longer with us, and Gil Scott Heron well past his best, he's pretty much all we've got left of the great tradition of social protest and poetry in Sixties soul and jazz.
Callier's new album updates his Sixties style to current spec by using Incognito's Jean-Paul Maunick and 4hero as producers (Paul Weller also co-writes and sings on one track), but this was an unreconstructed and unplugged performance, one of only two British dates with his American trio of Eric Hochberg on electric bass and Penn McGee on percussion.
As Callier normally plays the UK with his British band, an excellent but rather muso-ish collection of jazz-funkers, it was also a rare opportunity to hear his repertoire without the varnishing of sax or guitar solos. Though the opening set began badly, with a muddy sound balance and the distraction of McGee's kitchen-rack of percussion appliances, and often off-key backing vocals, to contend with, everything soon warmed up.
The songs were mainly old and familiar, many going back 30 years or more: "Ordinary Joe", "What Colour is Love", "Holdin' On", "When My Lady Danced". Though musically far from complex, trading heavily on folk-song structures, minor keys and jazz chords, their charm is hard to resist, especially given Callier's gentle vocal style, which recalls that of Mayfield. As time wore on, the shy leader became more expansive in his introductions. "There are some things we need to talk about," he said, going on to dedicate "Sunset Boulevard", his bitter critique of the music business, to Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez; "Lazarus Man" was preceded by an appropriately biblical parable.
By the time we got to the encore of "When the Music is Gone" and its refrain of "the song will be truth and peace, freedom and justice, the song will be love", the off-key harmonies had been miraculously healed and the love was right there all around you.
'Speak Your Peace' by Terry Callier is out on Mr Bongo RecordsReuse content