If it wasn’t apparent from its first album (on MCA), it is from the second: Scotland’s Average White Band is one of the best self-contained soul units in existence.
Every track on Average White Band pulsates with a tightly reined energy, and several weave a low-keyed poignancy through the thick, churning rhythms. From every conceivable angle – original material, vocal/instrumental arrangements and performances, production and the establishment of a clear-cut identity – the AWB impresses here in an assured, forceful way.
The band – several of whose members have worked extensively in Britain behind visiting American black musicians – doesn’t merely sound like a soul band; it is a soul band; there’s no question about that, although there’s the obvious question about how in the world the sextet got to this level of proficiency and emotional involvement in a culturally alien idiom. At the same time, there are elements of Britishness in the music: Upon hearing the album, a friend remarked that this is what Traffic might have sounded like today if they’d developed discipline. Actually, though, Traffic has never had anything like the punch of AWB.
Roger Ball’s horn arrangements and Onnie McIntyre’s relentless rhythm guitar work stand out even among these generally classy performances. But chiefly responsible for the AWB’s aural distinctiveness are the vocals: Lead singer Alan Gorrie (once in a good though little-known group called Forever More) often resembles early Steve Winwood in his strength and flexibility, while falsetto vocalist Hamish Stuart possesses an amazingly rich, rangy voice, which he uses with the daring of an aerialist. With McIntyre filling out the backgrounds in a sparing, virile way, the AWB consistently produces stunning vocal work.
The tracks are sequenced in such a way that the first half of the album emphasizes rhythmic energy while side two is dominated by a bitter-sweet romantic intensity. The second side, in fact, plays through like a soul suite, with Gorrie’s ‘Keepin’ It to Myself’ (distinguished by Molly Duncan’s wistful, Jr. Walker-style sax) and Stuart’s ‘I Just Can’t Give You Up’ particularly affecting. The LP’s single non-original, a faithful rendering of the Isleys’ ‘Work To Do’, shows off the group’s power, timing and finesse as well as anything they’ve recorded.
© Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 10 October 1974