Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Jerry Butler

  • Ice on Ice [Mercury, 1969] A-
  • You and Me [Mercury, 1970] B-
  • The Best of Jerry Butler [Mercury, 1970] A-
  • Nothing Says I Love You Like I Love You [Philadelphia International, 1978] B
  • Only the Strong Survive: The Legendary Philadelphia Hits [Mercury, 1984] A-
  • The Best of Jerry Butler: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Mercury, 2001] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ice on Ice [Mercury, 1969]
Unnoticed by all the contemporary music freaks, Butler rolls on, hit after hit, always beautiful, and now his albums are getting good. This is thanks in part to his new producers, Gamble and Huff of Philadelphia, who have previously done wonders for Archie Bell and the Drells. Mellow soul with a slight nightclub tinge, and fucking solid. A-

You and Me [Mercury, 1970]
Separated from Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff when they left Mercury, Butler Pursued His Own Artistic Interests by working with a songwriter's workshop on the South Side of Chicago, which is a lot better than Keith Relf or Richie Furay can claim. Unfortunately, this follow-up to G&H's The Iceman Cometh and Ice on Ice is lukewarm, and a big problem is the student songs--only Terry Callier's "Ordinary Joe" is more than professional, which ought to be the idea. B-

The Best of Jerry Butler [Mercury, 1970]
Butler is my kind of ballad singer, not least because a lot of his material is medium uptempo. He's got a big voice--proves it once again on a live version of his 1958 breakthrough, "For Your Precious Love"--but prefers to put his soul across by the way he shifts from straight song to the throaty love sounds that are his trademark. Not surprisingly, it's the seven Gamble-Huff tracks that make this compilation--their lyrics are ordinary, but their lush cool, so well-suited to Butler's own, is anything but. A-

Nothing Says I Love You Like I Love You [Philadelphia International, 1978]
This is indeed the Ice Man's best LP since he last recorded with Gamble-Huff in 1970--seductive, substantial, felt. But only the dance cut, "Cooling Out," with Leon Huff heating up on piano toward the close, is really worth playing for people you don't care about going to bed with. B

Only the Strong Survive: The Legendary Philadelphia Hits [Mercury, 1984]
Like Billy Paul, who struggled vainly to fill his slot at Gamble & Huff Inc., Butler was pretty jazzy for pop, but unlike Paul he wasn't vain about it--instead of italicizing the artistry of his big voice, he phrases so you can hear him talkin' to ya. And of course it's just this unassuming sophistication, this taste too considerate to acknowledge its own exquisiteness, that makes a simple 12-hit chronology so imposing. Dream merchant indeed. A-

The Best of Jerry Butler: 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection [Mercury, 2001]
Before Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff revved into urban-contemporary grandiloquence, their run with this former gospel singer/Impressions cofounder and future songwriting mentor/Chicago alderman defined a style of soul whose cool would never be duplicated. Butler had plenty of voice, but he knew showing it off was tantamount to admitting he had something to prove. So as he matured he turned conversational, talking his songs out of discretion rather than necessity. Thus he established his suitability for that "One Night Affair" he hopes you have in mind. He could certainly sustain the illusion for longer than 11 tracks, but not for the 40-plus you get when you supersize him. Anyway, why overdo it? Right, Jerry? A-

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