This article is about one of the most talented and charismatic artists I have ever been fortunate to see live. When you see him in concert, you’re immediately taken with his presence on stage. There is something about him that makes him stand out from other artists. He is a deeply religious man, but also a very humble man. I have written about him before, about his album Lifeline, a fantastic album, released in 1999. The album I will review today is Timepeace, Terry Callier’s comeback album, released in 1998.
I have written about Terry Callier and his career before. Born in Chicago, in 1945, he grew up in the North Side of Chicago, and was friends with other giants of soul music, Jerry Butler, Curtis Mayfield and Major Lance. He started playing folk clubs and coffee houses, before falling under the spell of legendary jazz musician John Coltrane’s music. Samuel Charters of Prestige Records met Callier, and encouraged him to record an album in 1964. This was The New Folk Sound of Terry Callier. Disaster struck. Charters inexplicably, decided to take the tapes of the album to the Mexican desert. This delayed the release of the album until 1968.
It would be a new decade before Terry Callier recorded another album. This was when he recorded three albums for Cadet Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records. These three albums are some of his best work. Occasional Rain was released in 1972, What Color Is Love in 1973 and I Just Can’t Help Myself in 1974. All of these albums contain some wonderful music, and I can recommend these albums to anyone interested in Terry Callier’s career. Alternatively, Essential-The Very Best of Terry Callier, released in 1998, contains the best of these three albums.
After being dropped by Cadet Records, Callier signed for Elektra. He recorded two great albums for Elektra. Both Fire On Ice, released in 1977, and Turn You To Love, released in 1978, were critically acclaimed. However, both sold badly.
Callier continued to tour until 1983. It was that year that he was given custody of his daughter. This led to him retiring from music. He took classes in computer programming and got a job at the University of Chicago. In his spare time, he studied for a degree in sociology. During this period, only one album was released, TC In DC, a live album recorded in Washington in 1982, before his retirement. It was released in 1996.
In the late 1980s’ UK DJs started playing Callier’s music in clubs. This led to Acid Jazz Records releasing I Don’t Want To See Myself (Without You), a track Callier recorded in 1983. From then on, Callier made trips to the UK to play concerts during his holidays from work.
Terry Callier began to make a comeback in the late 1990s. He recorded a track with Beth Orton on her Best Bit EP, which was later on her Trailer Park album. Then in 1998, he recorded Timepeace. The album saw Callier receive an award from the United Nations for outstanding artistic achievement and his contribution towards world peace.
Since the release of Timepeace, Callier has released a number of albums. They include the brilliant album Lifetime, released in 1999. Other albums have included studio albums Speak Your Peace released in 2002, Lookin’ Out released in 2004 and Hidden Conversations released in 2009. Two live albums and an album of remixes have also been released. It seems that Terry Callier’s comeback is complete. His music has found a new audience, and is reigniting the passion of his older fans, who missed his wonderful music, during his sabbatical. Now that I’ve told you about Terry Callier’s career, I will tell you what makes Timepeace such a wonderful album.
Timepeace opens with Ride Suite Ride (Intro). Callier strums gently on his guitar, singing some powerful lyrics. He is backed by organ and piano. The arrangement is minimal, adding to the drama of this short, powerful track.
Lazarus Man starts with percussion playing in the distance, Callier’s guitar meanders. The song slowly builds, dramatically, you’re dying to hear the lyrics, because of they match the introduction, they will be stunning. When Callier sings, you’re not disappointed, they’re spiritual, of biblical proportions. During the song, his voice veers from gentle and understated, to soaring and passionate. Throughout the song the drama builds, gradually, slowly. What emerges is Callier giving a stunning rendition of Lazurus Man, a song that when he sings it live, literally takes your breath away, such is the song’s dramatic impact.
The style changes, and the tempo drops, with Keep Your Heart Right, as if Callier’s pausing for breath, after his exertions on Lazarus Man. What stays the same is the quality and the passion. His voice is clear, emphasizing the beauty of the lyrics. It’s a song of hope, a beautiful one. On the track John Moulder’s guitar solo is exquisite, taking the track to another level. The backing vocalists are a perfect foil for Callier, they accompany him throughout the song, and fill in the spaces his vocal leaves. Quite simply, a stunning track, one I never tire of hearing.
Java Sparrow is the next song on Timepeace. It has an atmospheric start, water pours in the background, Callier’s guitar plays against the backdrop of water flowing. After that, he sings. When he does, prepare for a musical treat. His voice is stunning, his vocal is gentle, never forced, his rendition thoughtful, sung with feeling. The arrangement is perfect. It never overpowers his vocal, allowing his vocal to be the focus of your attention. This allows you to luxuriate in his performance, one that is among the best on the album.
The next song is one that will be familiar to many people, People Get Ready/Brotherly Love. People Get Ready is a classic Curtis Mayfield song, and Brotherly Love is a song Terry Callier wrote with daughter Sundiata. Callier’s version of People Get Ready begins with organ and guitar Then he gives a moving rendition complete with Gary Plummley’s brilliant tenor saxophone solo and some fantastic backing vocalists. The song blends into Brotherly Love beautifully, an equally beautiful song. The lyrics are positive, a message of hope, in troubled times. You can tell the lyrics contain an important messaage from Callier, so passionate is his performance. Towards the end of the song, the band cut loose, and turn the song into a slice of funky jazz. A saxophone blows, organ, piano, guitar bass and percussion all take turns to shine, and the backing singers improvisation is masterful, creating a wonderful suite of songs.
After the frantic and joyous ending to Brotherly Love, Callier slows things down on Love Theme From Spartucus, a song Callier cowrote with Alex North. From the gentle and spacious strummed guitar of the introduction, the dramatic atmosphere is palpable. After a minute, Callier sings, his voice slow, leaving plenty space, to add to the dramatic impact of the song. This works really well. You’re immediately drawn to the lyrics, they become the most important thing in your world, for the duration of the song. They’re a thing of beauty. A message of freedom, one that is highly relevant today, when people are downtrodden and oppressed worldwide. It’s a song about freedom, something we all take for granted, yet for some people, to quote Callier “it’s so far, so near.” Love Theme From Spartucus, is a moving and powerful song, one that makes you thankful of something we all take for granted, freedom.
No More Blues is a more upbeat song, which starts with drums guitar and Gary Plummley’s soprano saxophone. When Callier sings, his vocal is slow and clear, articulating the lyrics well. As the song progresses, the tempo increases slightly, becoming a jazz workout. Drums, piano, saxophone and those wonderful backing singers bring the song to life, transforming the song. More instruments enter the mix, sometimes quickly dropping out. The sound becomes bigger, fuller. Callier’s band show they’re masters of their instruments. He takes a back seat, allowing the to shine. When he returns, he joins in the improvisation, showing a different side to his vocal style, one that I enjoyed. What he ends up with, is a very different style of song, but still one of the highest quality.
The title-track Timepeace is next. It’s a song that begins with an improvisational style, various instruments that include saxophone, guitar and percussion. When Callier sings, his voice is loud and strong. He sings in front of the band, they in turn, fill the spaces his vocal leaves. Timepeace’s lyrics are deeply spiritual, full of imagery, with a strong narrative. Both Callier’s vocal and the band’s performance are of the highest standard. One man who deserves credit is the legendary Pharoah Saunders, whose tenor saxophone solo, is one of the highlights of the track. His playing compliments Callier’s voice perfectly, never overpowering the vocal, and filling spaces which Callier leaves. Saunders and Callier both give fantastic performances on this wonderful track.
Terry Callier wrote Following Your Footprints with Wayne Shorter. It’s track with a strong jazz influence. Right from the start this is apparent. Callier is joined on vocals by Veronica Cowper. Their vocals blend together perfectly. Throughout the track, each member of the band takes centre-stage, showcasing their considerable talents. Mark Edwards on piano, Gary Plummley on saxophone and Dave Barnard on bass all give musical masterclasses. Again, Callier decides to improvise, and during what is a long track, joins with his band in demonstrating his vocal agility. Following Your Footprints is very different to much of Terry Callier’s other work, but is a good song, one that you need to listen to several times to appreciate its subtleties and nuances.
C’est La Vie begins with percussion and piano. Its an upbeat song, that sets off at a jaunty tempo. Callier’s vocal is light and gentle. He takes care to articulate the lyrics, lyrics that are about love, and the fear of losing the one you love. As the song progresses, his voice strengthens and gets louder, as if wanting to emphasize the lyrics. The song features great performances from the band, they seem to have reserved a standout performance for this song.
One of the best tracks on the album is next, Coyote Moon. It’s a song with wonderful lyrics. So strong is the narrative, that you can close your eyes and picture what Callier is singing about. That’s how descriptive the lyrics are. You can picture leaving the crowded city, to the peace of the countryside, with fog rolling down the mountains, and traveling along empty roads. Terry Calier’s rendition of this song is so good, that it allows you to imagine these places. The way Coyote Moon is arranged, is understated, allowing Callier’s vocal to shine. Behind Callier, the band play gently, never overpowering or crowding his vocal.
Aka New York Al is the next song on Timepeace. Its introduction meanders, smoothly, sometimes hesitantly. When Callier makes an appearance, he half-speaks, half sings. The lyrics sound personal to Callier, and he sings about travelling through life with the subject of the song, telling of their shared experiences. Callier sings the song beautifully, it’s a heartfelt rendition of the song. This song benefits from a simple arrangement, and Toni Moore and Suzanne Palmer’s backing vocals compliment Terry Callier’s voice wonderfully.
Timepeace ends with Traitor To The Race. On this uptempo song, Callier’s vocal style is very different. When he sings, he is almost rapping the lyrics. It’s a song full of social comment, that describes the problem faced by young people in the American projects, where people of the same race kill, abuse and hurt each other. Caliier sounds angry, annoyed and saddened, despairing at the futility of this behavior. This song could be describing similar problems faced by young people worldwide. The lyrics are highly pertinent, and as relevant today, as twelve years ago, when the album was released. Traitor To The Race has a much more contemporary feel and sound to the arrangement, one that matches the lyrics. It’s a very different song from others on the album, but is one with an important message, one that must be told, and something done about it.
Timepeace truly was a magnificent comeback album from Terry Callier. After eighteen years away from a recording studio, it seemed like he had never been away. His voice was better than ever, and his songwriting skills just as good as before. The years spent on sabbatical hadn’t diminished his creativity, quite the opposite, it was like he returned refreshed, with plenty to say, desperate to say it. This album sees him tackle a variety of subjects, love, spirituality, friendship and social problems. Much had changed during his absence from music, but Callier returned fresh, ready to comment on a changing world. Since then, he has produced a number of albums. My particular favorite album since Timepeace, is Lifeline, an album that is even better than Timepeace. For someone who has never heard Terry Callier’s music, Timepeace and Lifeline are good introductions to his later albums. If you want to explore his earlier work Essential-The Very Best of Terry Callier, is a good starting point, and covers all his recordings on Cadet. However, it doesn’t include his work on Elektra. That is available on About Time-The Terry Callier Story 1965-1982. There are many compilations of Terry Callier’s music available, these are the best. They’ll give you an overview of his musical career. They will introduce you to the various periods of his career, and then let you explore his music further. You have a fantastic musical journey in front of you, one that I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy. Standout Tracks: Keep Your Heart Right, Java Sparrow, People Get Ready/Brotherly Love and Coyote Moon.