Willie Hightower

Willie Hightower

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Maybe it's naïve to be surprised at the fact that a soul singer of Willie Hightower's incredible gifts could remain so obscure. After all, if there's one thing the music business has demonstrated in the last 50 years, it's a quick willingness to suck the last drop of blood from the bodies of its best soul artists and then toss them scornfully aside. Still, though. To hear Hightower roar through Joe South's "Walk a Mile in My Shoes" is to hear the sound of musical revelation -- this is what South's hit version should have been. Same goes for Hightower's rendition of O.B. McClinton's "Back Road into Town" (listen to that horn arrangement and those subtly applied strings) and his respectful but confident take on "Somebody Have Mercy," a Sam Cooke number that manages to showcase both Hightower's obvious vocal debt to the great man and his undeniable individuality. Nor are his originals anything to sneeze at -- note in particular the slowly simmering and powerfully emotive "Time Has Brought About a Change." There is hardly a bum track anywhere on this collection, which includes most of the program from his one album and several of his singles as well, all of them recorded in the late '60s. Essential.

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