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Why Do You Need Billy Preston’s Second Album On Apple Records?

Mark Smotroff helps you justify a perhaps not obvious purchase…

This isn’t that hard to figure out folks, but you probably want to grab a copy of the new limited reissue of Billy Preston’s second album for Apple Records called Encouraging Words.  The release celebrates Preston’s recent induction to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.

Issued in 1970, this album on The Beatles’ boutique label is an all-star affair which for many years has been elusive to find on the collector’s market. But even more than its scarcity, Encouraging Words is a wonderful listen and in many ways is a missing link in the music which came out of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass recording sessions.  

Sure, most of us know that Harrison’s album more-or-less spawned the group that became known as Derek & The Dominoes (which later had their own mega hit “Layla”). Arguably the only “fifth Beatle” who was invited to play on most of the Let It Be sessions, Billy Preston holds a pretty unique place in Fab Four history.  Accordingly, most of Derek’s Dominoes can be found on this album as well as Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison (who co-produced the album), Klaus Voormann, Delaney Bramlett and even Oakland, California’s Edwin Hawkins Singers. The latter group was then still riding high in the charts with their groundbreaking urban contemporary gospel hit “Oh Happy Day” and their subsequent backing of Melanie on her 1970 smash Top 10 hit “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain).”  

Encouraging Words is home to the first released recording of Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” — which is beautiful and very different sounding than George’s version — as well as Preston’s interpretation of “My Sweet Lord.”  The Beatles’ “I’ve Got A Feeling” (which eventually came out on the Let It Be album in a more rock flavored arrangement) was also previewed here by Preston in a mad good funky soul take.  The album also contains a co-write with Harrison, “Sing One for the Lord.”

This record is a great rock ’n soul jammer, with kickin’ tracks like “You’ve Been Acting Strange” feeling like it might well have fit on a Sam & Dave or Temptations album. This isn’t entirely surprising because apparently members of both of those groups’ touring bands play on Encouraging Words!

Sonics wise, this new Apple edition — pressed in Europe on thick, dark and well centered 180-gram vinyl — sounds solid and of the period. Surprisingly, it feels a bit less bright and subdued than my original U.S. pressing — it is usually the other way around! But this new pressing is certainly quieter than my original so there are trade offs. 

Encouraging Words sadly wasn’t a big seller back in the day which adds to the relative obscurity of finding copies in any condition around easily (for a long time all I had was a beat up copy until a few years ago when I found a pretty clean original).  If you don’t need an original pressing, this new edition seems a pretty solid option, a no brainer to buy, really… 

And while you’re at it, you might as well explore Billy’s other albums. Especially his first for Apple, That’s The Way God Planned It (with its absolutely ascendant title track which was also performed at Harrison’s legendary Concert For Bangladesh, see below). Billy’s subsequent albums for A&M Records in the early ‘70s are generally great listens and where you’ll find his mega hits “Outta Space,” “Will It Go Round In Circles,” “Nothing From Nothing,” “Space Race” and the song which became Joe Cocker’s biggest hit, “You Are So Beautiful.” 

There is much spirited and rocking soul joy to explore in Billy Preston’s catalog and Encouraging Words is a good place to start… 

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