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Betty Wright - My First Time Around

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Artist: Betty Wright

Album: My First Time Around

Label: Water

Review date: Sep. 11, 2005

Betty Wright is like the female Bill Withers; that is to say, she’s an excellent soul artist even more criminally overlooked in current times than Withers, who had his own recent critical revival. The re-release of My First Time Around, one of Wright’s first records to really show her talent, might help getting her own movement going. As a barely-known album, recorded when Wright was just 14 years old, this re-release sounds like the revelation it must have been to the few people to catch it its first time around.

Remembered primarily for one Atlantic hit, “Clean Up Woman,” Ms. Wright has been in the news lately for helping 18-year-old Joss Stone sound like a credible soul singer. Wright was writing her own songs at an even younger age: My First Time Around has crackling stories of the kind of love you regret even while you’re making it (“I’m Gonna Hate Myself In The Morning”), with men you should be ashamed to know (“He’s Bad, Bad, Bad”). It’s hard to imagine how a 14-year-old Wright knew so much about that sort of subject matter, but no song here strikes a false note, not even the few happy spots, like the romantic hymnal “I’m Thankful.”

The music, provided by a fairly unknown group of musicians then working for Henry Stone’s Alston label, is note-for-note perfect, from the organ accenting “Circle of Heartbreak” to the horn section on “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do,” appropriately the record’s hit single. In an alternate universe where artists get the recognition they deserve, Betty Wright is as well-known as Aretha Franklin. Now that My First Time Around is available again, hopefully the rest of us in this dimension will finally catch up.

By Josh Drimmer

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