Willie Wright - "I'm So Happy Now" (Telling The Truth)
"Proximal archaeology" is how Simon Reynolds captured what makes the Numero Group tick. Numero is a label I’ve always had a lot of time for: With both a seemingly endless capacity for unearthing things you never had any clue could possibly exist, and a pretty unerring aesthetic radar (from Syl Johnson box sets to Antena reissues, they know their stuff), it’s a reissue house that’s already designed and disseminated itself into semi-legend.
So it’s no surprise to hear of a story like Willie Wright’s descending, as if from the clouds, into the Numero Group’s collective lap. From Harlem doo-wop through Boston and on into both Nantucket and the mid-’70s singer-songwriter haze, Wright self-released Telling The Truth, his ’77 shot at private press legend, sold it from the trunk of his car, and then… Well, like a surprising amount of never-been-kissed private press LPs, it’s now burnished to shine thanks to the world of the reissue house.
Wright’s music has a preternatural ease about it, and a deceptively simple emotional heft that reminds me of other folk-soul troubadours, like Bill Withers. I like it best when the group behind him (including members of Skull Snaps and Jimmy Castor Bunch) start moving with free limbs; on songs like “Indian Reservation,” you can hear the group starting to move as one behind Wright’s gently generous songs. It suggests there may have been a lot more potential in Wright’s songwriting persona than the private press pigeonhole he’s currently being squeezed into.
The most important thing about Telling The Truth is the social aspect of the record — the way George “Buzzy” Bragg’s drums move with fluid acuity, and Harry Jensen’s guitar captures just about the right tone, his note placement surprisingly adept. And, as a dyed in the wool guitar fetishist, I can’t help but warm to a record with a liner note such as, “YOU WILL, however, enjoy this record if you’re into GUITARS!”
Telling The Truth is a lovely record in a world full of lovely records. Its position as a recently rediscovered lovely record of private provenance earns it a cultural status it probably doesn’t quite deserve (insofar as, plenty of major label folk-soul sides from the ’70s are just as comfortably poetic). If it’s missing anything, it’s that sense of what-the-fuck that comes of the best reissue sides, reissues that have you rethinking your thoughts on the written trajectory of music history, or that set your mind wondering what else is out there – that real "time is out of joint" experience. Telling The Truth is lovely, yes. Proximal, doubtless… But I could probably use a bit of distal right about now.