Willie Mitchell the legendary soul music producer also had a successful career as a musician and bandleader. "Soul Serenade" gathers together the pick of Mitchell's Hi Records hits mostly from the 1960's. Mitchell, who is probably best known for his association with Al Green in particular, started out playing trumpet at the age of eight, and hit the road with a 10-piece band whilst still in his teens.
"Soul Serenade" is classic 1960's Memphis soul which evokes memories of Booker T. & the MGs, the Bar-Kays and the Mar-Keys. There's a few tunes here that people will recognize right off: Little Richard's "Slippin' And Slidin'," King Curtis's "Soul Serenade," and Willie Dixon's "My Babe" in particular. Mitchell was no mean songwriter, however, and created some excellent tunes of his own, several of which appear here. With the able support over the years from musicians (and writers) of the caliber of Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson, Charlie Chalmers, and the Hodges Brothers (Leroy, Mabon and Charles), it is hardly surprising that Mitchell had several R&B and Pop chart hits.
"20-75" sets the tone and the standard right at the very start, and then it's non-stop party time right the way through to the close, some 20 tracks and 45 minutes later. "Bum Daddy" is perhaps just the pick of the tracks, with its call and response played out between the organ and the horns, although "20-75," and "30-60-90" do come pretty close. If you like Hammond B-3, and punchy horns, however, you could slap on just about any track and come up with find two and a bit minutes of instant enjoyment--try it by using the shuffle replay facility on your CD player, and you'll get my drift.
The only minor drawback is that an album of 20 horn-fuelled instrumentals can start to appear a little samey after repeated plays, even though it isn't. Irrespective of that, however, "Soul Serenade" contains some fantastic Soul music, and serves to remind us of Willie Mitchell's credentials as a very fine musician, composer, arranger and bandleader before he achieved notoriety as a producer. All we need now is a companion volume of the best stuff that Mitchell has turned out as a producer. In the meantime, "Soul Serenade" will do very nicely thank you.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.