Serenade: The Best of Willie Mitchell (Hi Records/Right Stuff 1999) - Soul man Willie Mitchell is best
known as the producer for such Memphis greats as Al
Green, Ann Peebles and Syl Johnson. Yet Mitchell's skills went far beyond straight
production work, as he was a solid musician in his own right.
Soul Serenade is a long-overdue compilation of instrumental tracks recorded by Mitchell and his
band in the 60s and 70s. Recording around the corner from the famous Stax
studios, Mitchell worked in what has been called "America's most soulful neighborhood."
Mitchell's music career started in 1954, when he was discharged from the Army and returned to his hometown of Memphis.
The trumpet-playing band leader soon assembled an ace band and began playing to fans all over the city, including
Elvis Presley, who hired Mitchell repeatedly to play
his private parties in town.
In 1959, Mitchell switched to Hi Records
and began his 20-year affiliation with this classic soul label. Mitchell was the father of the much-emulated Hi
Record sound, with swirling organ fills, chugging horn arrangements, and a steady four/four drum beat.
Serenade finds Mitchell working with an A-team of Memphis studio musicians, including Leroy Hodges
on bass, Teenie Hodges on guitar, Charles
Hodges on organ, and Howard Grimes
With songs like "20-75" (so named as the single was Hi Records
catalogue number 2075), "The Crawl," and "Buster Browne," Mitchell displays an effortless horn-based
soul sound, with catchy riffs and a steady beat.
Hi Records founder, Joe
Cuoghi, died in 1970, Mitchell was left in charge of the label. While his solo recordings declined,
Mitchell went on to produce such hit records for Al
Green as "Tired of Being Alone," and "Love & Happiness." Mitchell retired from Hi
Records in 1979, and now operates a Beale Street Nightclub, "Willie
The album also includes extensive liner notes from music historian Bill Dahl, who writes, "These songs add
up to a stunning Memphis soul legacy overflowing with in-the-pocket innovations that would leave Willie Mitchell
standing tall in the annals of R&B history, even if he'd never crossed
paths with Al Green."
Right on. It takes a large talent to help singlehandedly mold a music style. And Willie Mitchell had the talent.
A fine companion to the Hi Records three-CD box set,
Soul Serenade shows the legacy of Willie Mitchell.
Patsy Cline, Duets, Volume I (Private I/Mercury 1999) - Can we give bonus
credit for sincerity? Because veteran producer Michael Blakey had all the best intentions with
Yet, the end result is a disappointment. Blakey started with 11 tracks recorded more than 35 years ago by Cline
(who died in a plane crash at age 31).
then digitally enhanced the vocals, added in contemporary instrumentation and additional orchestration (as if Cline's original studio recordings weren't overly orchestrated to begin with),
and then tagged on new "Duet" vocals from a cache of country favorites, including Willie
Nelson, Glen Campbell, and Crystal
Gayle. The resulting product is not easy to digest.
Duets, Volume I is the first of three planned
volumes of Patsy Cline duets. According to producer Blakey,
"because the original key and integrity of the music was not changed, the new performers had to sing with
ease in keys that fall within Cline's recordings."
And some do work
smoothly. For example, "That Wonderful Someone," with gospel artist Bob
Carlisle, clicks in, as does the duet with Beth
Nielson Chapman, "If Only I Could Stay Asleep."
The album also includes a well-made enhanced CD Rom section,
with video footage, lyrics, a photo gallery, and other goodies. The enhanced CD Rom section was developed by IQ
CD and works flawlessly.
But in the
end, I just want the classic Patsy Cline, with her show-stopping
voice. There's no point in trying to rearrange songs like "Crazy Dream" or "Walkin' After Midnight":
the original records are classics (find the live recordings from the Grand
Ole Opry), and the new instrumentation is hard to accept.
Patsy Cline had a one-in-a-lifetime voice.
Instead of Duets, Volume I, let's enjoy the memories.
Widespread Panic, 'Til The Medicine Takes (Capricorn
1999) - After nearly 15 years of constant touring, Widespread Panic
is a tight ensemble that has developed a following as one of the best
live bands in the business. With their ninth album (and the follow-up to last year's live double disc, "Light
Fuse, Get Away"), the Athens, Georgia-based combo finds itself expanding its songwriting efforts.
Widespread Panic consists of John Bell on vocals
and guitar, John Hermann on keyboards, Michael Houser on guitar, Todd
Nance on drums, Domingo Ortiz on percussion, and Dave Schools on
bass. The group also released a one-off project in 1995 with Vic
Chesnutt entitled "Nine High a Pallet."
the new album, long-time producer John Keane (who has worked with R.E.M.,
Cowboy Junkies, and Indigo
Girls) asked the band to draw up a laundry list of ideas and guests to help form a fresh sound. Widespread Panic remains innovative, as tracks like "Christmas
Katie" have a decidedly bluesy influence.
on 'Til The Medicine Takes include gospel diva Dottie
Peoples, who spices up "All Time Low," the Dirty
Dozen Brass Band on "Christmas Katie," and twangy banjo from producer Keane on the upbeat
"The Waker." Also appearing on harmony vocals is Anne Richmond Boston, formerly of the
Swimming Pool Qs.
Tracks like "Bear's Gone Fishin'" and "One Arm Steve" find the
band working in its groove-laden stronghold, with a jammin' feel, driven by a poly-rhythmic percussion section.
Southern boogie-rock at its best, 'Til The Medicine Takes is another accessible serving from Widespread Panic.
- Randy Krbechek © 1999
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