The Memphis label Stax Records was the home of vintage soul acts such as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. William Bell, a lesser-known but still legendary light, won respect for writing “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which Redding covered, and co-writing “Born Under a Bad Sign,” which Albert King and Cream recorded; he’s also been sampled by Kanye West and Ludacris. This welcome new album is his first in a decade and his first for Stax in nearly 40 years. Now 76, Bell is reflective about his mistakes (“The Three of Me”), but also stokes the tempo in the cathartic “Poison in the Well” and funky “Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge,” recalling in the latter seeing Sonny Boy Williamson and B.B. King in a wild club whose patrons “didn’t care about the law.” Bell co-wrote most tunes with producer John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash, Rodney Crowell), and three with Marc Cohn of “Walking in Memphis” fame. This is soul music with personality and real instruments; best of all, it’s unflinchingly honest.
Essential: “Mississippi-Arkansas Bridge”
Steve Morse can be reached at email@example.com