By Calum Marsh
By Michelle Orange
By Michael Atkinson
By Simon Abrams
By Zachary Wigon
By Aaron Hillis
By Casey Burchby
By Stephanie Zacharek
The smooth, purposeful voice that pushed "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Lean on Me" up r&b and pop charts airs late-life-crisis grumbles and practiced reminiscences in a relaxed new documentary. Bill Withers, who nailed sounds-of-the-'70s hooks from touchy funk ("Use Me" and its wary-wicked clavinet) to adult-contempo bliss-out ("Lovely Day"), celebrates his 70th birthday here with the requisite musing about keeping a hand in recording. Though he's ready with easy charm, his sensibly jaded edge makes things interesting (both tendencies may be reactions to stuttering since childhood). Thirteenth-born in a West Virginia mining family, and late to the business in his early thirties, Withers held on to a factory-line job at first, and maintains a mythos about scant performing experience despite what his Navy buddies say. He walks railroad ties in the old hometown, visits stuttering kids, amiably deflates a forced rap session on selling out with Cornel West and Tavis Smiley (Withers: "We're all entrepreneurs"), and refrains from criticizing his aspiring-singer daughter. Happily married to an MBA, with a son headed to law school, Withers gets a sleepily even-keel portrait that could use more on musical technique, though it is nice to see him get happy with singer-songwriter Raul Midón.
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