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Tracking Terry

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Terry Callier: Look At Me Now
Taken from the 7″ on Chess (1962);
900 Miles and Be My Woman
Taken from the album “The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier” on Prestige (1964);
Turn You To Love
Taken from the album “Turn You To Love” on Elektra (1979);

Massive Attack feat. Terry Callier: Live With Me
Taken from the album “Massive Attack: Collected” on Virgin (2006)

At every decent record store in the country–probably the world, for that matter–there lives (and he does live there) a stalk-thin vulture of a man with tangled gray hair and a case of degenerative myopia that puts him just a shade shy of legal blindness. He’ll look unassuming enough in his plaid button up or Kinks concert T. He’ll be soft spoken and may walk with a subtle club-foot. He’ll look, quite frankly, a bit like a bum. But hear me now: Do not underestimate this man or any of his like-conditioned brethren worldwide; he knows everything–to the most obscure minutiae–about music. All music. From baroque folk opera to Burmudan steel-band salsa to Kenyan hardcore. And if you hang around him long enough, you may learn a thing or two.

All of this is just to say that when I first heard “The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier” falling like mist from the speakers at Aaron’s Records, I knew who was responsible for putting it on.

For those of you who have never heard of Terry Callier, be prepared for a bit of aural confounding; the first listen is bound to be disorienting. Maybe his voice it a bit too smooth for you, the arrangements to slick. But stick with him. For here is an artist unafraid to bridge folk and funk, disco and downtempo. And always with soul soul soul.

A contemporary and rival Doo-Wopper of Curtis Mayfield, Callier grew up in the same Chicago project as his better-known peer. And even if TC’s career proved to be significantly more marginal in terms of commercial success, what he achieved as far as an extensive catalogue of unique and remarkably diverse music, holds up against the heaviest-hitters of his generation.

And four decades later, he’s still at it.

What I’ve included for you here is a little Terry Callier sampler. From his earliest release–a Northern-Soul flavored 7″–to some of his most recent work with Massive Attack, who do well to underscore the vocals with the kind of dark cinematics that complement Callier so well. You get a sense from the selections the breadth of his range. Sure, not every track is a masterpiece, but collectively, they add up to a very–how would the sentient record clerk call it–dynamic, musical legacy.

Now, unfortunately, I don’t have all of this man’s recordings, which means that certain gems are amiss. Notably lacking are “Occasional Rain (’72) and “What Color Is Love (’73)”, which are both essential for the T.C. connaisseur. If anyone wants to hook it up, I’d be much obliged.

And that’s that.