Am I Black Enough For You? (2009)

“I’m not telling you who Mrs Jones is,” winks ‘70s soul star Billy Paul. “’Cos she ain’t my wife.” Perched in the back of his limo, the bespectacled, baseball cap-wearing pensioner is referring to ‘Me and Mrs Jones’, the adultery-themed debut single that rocketed him to stardom in 1972. But when Philadelphia International Records insisted on ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’ as a follow-up, the backlash was immediate.

Why? Well, Swedish director Göran Olsson never really explains. Chasing after Paul as he tours Brazil and Paris with his manager/wife Blanche, there are discussions of racism, and we’re repeatedly told what a ‘career-killing’ mistake the single was. Except it wasn’t. Sure, he’s no household name, but Paul still accrued a vast collection of hits, while his continued performances to this day prove that he remains very much in demand. Even a chat with Kenny Gamble, the author of many of Paul’s top tracks, fails to enlighten.

Based on a muddy argument it may be, but Olsson’s documentary manages some rock-out moments anyway. Paul is a sprightly, cheeky charmer, shamelessly stripping off layers in the heat of a musical moment, while wife Blanche is a hoot, testing hip-hop hats on her grizzled hubby like a fussy mother hen. Visually it’s top dollar, too – Olsson matching Paul’s husky crooning to moody urban landscapes.

But the director can’t resist jamming the breaks whenever Paul takes up a mic, turning his opus into a live greatest hits recording that totally sacrifices pacing. Shame, because Paul is worth more – his past encounters with drugs and the KKK are grazed in song-supporting montages, but Olsson is reticent about grilling for the goods. So, black enough? Mm-hmm. Brave enough? Not quite.

Anticipation: A documentary about the dude who sang ‘Me and Mrs Jones’? Could be good. 3

Enjoyment: That’s a pretty natty set of pipes. 3

In Retrospect: The old fella’s still got it, but you’ll wish you knew more about him. 2

Via Little White Lies

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