Wilson Pickett

Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1962-1978)

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Wilson Pickett was a force of nature, a one-man hurricane that blew everything out of his path. As he sang in one of his many Top 40 R&B singles, he was A Man and a Half, a title so fitting it served as a summary for Rhino’s 1993 double-disc compilation, a collection that stood as the most exhaustive Pickett retrospective until Rhino Handmade unleashed the six-disc box Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Recordings (1962-1978), a monumental testament to the sweatiest, grittiest, soul singer who ever grabbed a microphone. This set may not be billed as the "complete recordings", but it is effectively that, rounding up all the master takes Pickett cut for Atlantic during those 16 years, dipping back for a few sides by his early group the Falcons, skipping his three-year sojourn at RCA from 1972-1975, adding some rarities, but essentially serving up all his prime titles in a handsome, hardcover book. Subtlety wasn’t quite Pickett’s strong suit, but that isn’t a liability: no matter what song came his way, he never sounded anything less than committed, and in the case of his disco dabblings of the late ‘70s, it could be some real dregs indeed. As this set illustrates, Pickett was game to follow the shifting sands of fashion, singing blaxploitation funk at the beginning of the ‘70s and glitzy disco at the end of it, singing it with the same fire he had when he was at Muscle Shoals in the late ‘60s, where he cut such timeless sides as “In the Midnight Hour,” “Knock on Wood,” “634-5789 (Soulsville USA),” “Mustang Sally,” and “Funky Broadway.” These singles naturally form the foundation of Funky Midnight Mover, but that is to be expected, as they’re always the core of any Pickett collection -- what the box proves is the magnitude of his talent and the consistency of his prime. Dig deeper than the ‘60s hits and there’s a wealth of great music -- pure, uncut Southern soul that’s sometimes adventurous, like when Wilson flirted with rock & roll on covers of “Hey Joe” and “Hey Jude”-- but what impresses is how Pickett remains a dynamic force even when the quality of the songs dips, as it undeniably does in his second stint at Atlantic. Despite this limp ending, the box never feels weak, it’s always strong and soulful, a necessary monument to a talent with no parallel in his time or in any other.

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