Bill Withers is one of the greatest singers and songwriters in the history of soul music, but he’s been effectively retired ever since the release of his 1985 album Watching You Watching Me. He never performs, and he only makes public appearances very rarely. If you saw the great 2009 documentary Still Bill, you know he’s been recording this whole time. He just hasn’t released any of it. So it’s just amazing to wake up this morning and see that there’s a new Bill Withers song out in the world — his first in 32 years.
As Pitchfork reports, Withers has just released “(You’ve Been Quite A Doll) Raggedy Ann.” It’s a cover of a 1970 song from the legendary country music goofball Little Jimmy Dickens, who died in 2015 at the age of 94 and who, like Withers, came from West Virginia. Withers’ version of the song is, like the original, an emotional spoken-word lament. But unlike the original, it’s driven by marimba and horn-stabs. It honestly sounds like nothing else. Withers’ cover appears on the new tribute album The Rhinestone Hillbilly: A Tribute To Little Jimmy Dickens, which features roots-music luminaries like Kathy Mattea and Charlie McCoy. Listen to Withers’ cover below.
The Rhinestone Hillbilly is out now, and you can get it at Bandcamp.