For a musician who hasn’t released a new album since 1985, Bill Withers is having a great year.
The soul singer-songwriter was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, has opened up to the press with features in The New York Times and Rolling Stone and tonight will have his classic album, “Live at Carnegie Hall,” performed in its entirety by an all-star lineup at the titular venue.
With heavy hitters like Ed Sheeran, D’Angelo and Keb’ Mo’ on the bill, there will be plenty of competition for performing some of the album’s biggest hits. Far be it from us to tell professionals how to do their jobs (ha!), but if we were putting together the set list, here are our picks on who should perform some of the standout tracks.
“Ain’t No Sunshine”
— Ed Sheeran
One aspect of the brilliance of “Ain’t No Sunshine” is just how little the song needs to be powerful. It really can be just one person and a guitar. The “Live at Carnegie Hall” version includes the full band, but a stripped-down cover by Sheeran could still pack a punch.
The electric piano part on the track would make a perfect match for the soul superstar. Even better, the live version features a false ending, drawing the song out to almost nine minutes — still less than the 15-minute version of “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” D’Angelo has been known to bust out on tour.
— Anthony Hamilton
The blues, the references to the church, the hand-claps — this ode to the power and love of grandmothers everywhere is tailor-made for Hamilton’s modern blues/soul fusion.
“Just the Two of Us”
— Michael McDonald
— Aloe Blacc
Seeing a tribute to Withers and not seeing these two hits performed would be like a Prince show without “Purple Rain.” We’re presuming there’ll be an encore medley of some sort to include these classics. Technically released by Grover Washington Jr., Withers’ voice long ago became the hallmark of “Just the Two of Us.” It’s one of his smoothest tracks, so it begs for the yacht-rock sheen of McDonald. Meanwhile, the uplifting “Lovely Day” seems right in the wheelhouse of Blacc, a man who named his debut album “Lift Your Spirit.”
“Lean On Me”
— Entire lineup
It’s too easy, almost bordering on cliche, to ask for everyone to lock arms and sway back and forth while onstage for what is likely to be one of the evening’s final songs. But the reason that something — a saying, an action, even an artistic choice — becomes cliche is that it works, and therefore people want to repeat it. Having a big theater-wide sing-along to a song about friendship and community makes too much sense.
IF YOU GO: “Celebrating the Music of Bill Withers” takes place at Carnegie Hall Thursday at 8 p.m., 881 Seventh Ave., 212-247-7800, sold out.