There is a real art to taking a song as well known as this Bill Withers’ classic and presenting a new version to the world. Stick too closely to the original and you are really just ridding the coat tails of the original artist, re-work things too much and you run the risk of alienating those who have already fallen for its easy charms. But possibly more than any song, Ain’t No Sunshine is the perfect song to pick, the original being so understated and subtly underplayed, anyone attempting to leave their mark on the song will find that they are working with, if not a blank canvas, then certainly a sparsely adorned one.
Ed Robinson walks a perfect line in his new take, a line between the more infectious, reggae rhythms which he builds his version around and the deft soulfulness of the original. It might seem that bringing this much energy to what is essentially the sound of soul boiled down to its bare essentials and pure emotions might lose something, or at least take things in a wholly new direction. But the smart thing about Ed Robinson, and this probably stems from his masterful vocals, is that the soul element whilst no longer the unique selling point is still in there making this less a change of styles and more a layering of new sonic ideas onto old. I guess if you follow the musical family tree far enough back you can find a common ancestor to both reggae and soul and this certainly highlights that point neatly.
So whereas Bill Withers played on the heart wrenching intensity and the reflective words which are at the heart of the song, Ed Robinson turns this more into a celebration of love. Bill was dwelling on the heartache of missing his loved one, Ed revels in her return made all the more welcomed by the time he has to dwell on the hole she left in his life. Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder, and this could almost be the by-line for the song now.
It takes a brave man to attempt such a classic of the soul canon, a braver one still to move it into new generic ground, but Ed Robinson has certainly risen to the challenge and this new outing for the song reminds us that even the best known numbers still have new ground to break and new sonic pastures to explore.