William Bell One Day Closer to Home

William Bell Continues Creating Timeless Soul Ballads

Soul legend William Bell sings and writes about love and relationships in a traditional way that reveals the constancy of the need for human connections.

One Day Closer to Home
William Bell
Wilbe Records
14 April 2023

Bruce Springsteen recently included William Bell‘s 1968 ballad “I Forgot to Be Your Lover” on the Boss’ collection of 15 soul music covers, Only the Strong Survive. Bell’s song was probably the most obscure track on the record, which featured several Motown hits and other well-known selections. This reveals two things: Springsteen’s good taste and Bell’s continued influence on contemporary music.

William Bell first started out backing up Rufus Thomas in the 1950s before he joined the Stax stable of talents during its early days. He had one of the label’s first big hits in 1961 with “You Don’t Miss Your Water”. Bell’s had many successes since then and has received a slew of honors, including a Grammy for Americana Album of the Year for his 2017 record, This Is Where I Live and a National Endowment of the Arts “NEA” lifetime award in 2020.  

One might think Bell’s career was over because of his slew of achievements, but the soul singer is still writing and performing. He’s just released a new album with a dozen original titles, One Day Closer to Home, on his record label (Wilbe). The 12 ballads have a timeless quality and would not be out of place on any LP he made over the past 50-plus years. Sure, there are some signs of contemporaneity just because it was created in the present. Is a song title like “Let’s Make Loving Great Again” a subtle reference to the political slogan Making America Great Again? The track celebrates romance and could easily fit on Bell’s classic 1960s Stax albums.

Bell still possesses a rich, gritty Southern blues voice that suggests one experienced in the ways of love. He may have gotten older, yet he sounds much the same as he used to as a younger man. His voice may have a little more weariness, but he always had a ragged edge to his smooth tone that added gravitas to his material. Bell always has had a wizened aspect to his singing. He sang in the voice of an older but wiser man back in 1961 when he sang “You Don’t Miss Your Water”; now he comes off as a spry older fellow on songs like “I Still Go to Parties” and “I Got Feet”. He’s still going to dance and play around.

The title cut may be the strangest one. The song “One Day Closer to Home” features a man recently released from confinement, stranded in the rain while hitchhiking. He’s thinking about “the good woman in Memphis” he left behind and wonders if she still wants him. The narrative ends unresolved. This serves as a metaphor for the journey of life. We don’t know what happens until it’s over, but we understand every day brings us nearer to resolution.

Soul music never really went away, although there have been several resurgences in its popularity over the years. One Day Closer to Home shows the genre’s resistance to change in the best sense. Bell sings and writes about love and personal relationships in a traditional way that reveals the constancy of the need for human connections. “Everybody wants love to last forever,” Bell reminds us. We are all longing for the special one. We all need a “Human Touch”. The singer-songwriter uses the soul music template to capture the ups and downs of people looking for eternal affection. The genre’s roots in gospel and rhythm and blues make it appropriate to convey the strengths and weaknesses that are part of our shared condition.

RATING 7 / 10