Willie Mitchell

Soul Serenade: The Best of Willie Mitchell [Capitol]

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Willie Mitchell is so often lauded as a producer/songwriter/arranger that it's easy to overlook the numerous hits he recorded for Hi Records as a bandleader. Long a fixture on the Memphis music scene, he came to the Hi label in the early '60s after part of his band played on Bill Black's hit "Smokie, Part 2." On this 20-track collection, you'll hear Mitchell's skills as an arranger and composer collide with his trumpet playing skills and production chops; an irresistible combination that produced tracks stamped with a Memphis fingerprint a mile wide. While Mitchell and his crew would tackle everything from "What Now My Love" to "Sunshine of Your Love" with a Memphis funky edge, this collection stays pretty much with the dynamite originals that were the group's shining moments, including "20-75," "The Crawl," "Buster Browne," "Up-Hard," "Poppin'," "Toddlin'," "Teenie's Dream," "Big Power House," and the King Curtis title track -- funky classics all.

What he later developed with Al Green and others is in embryonic form here, easily a match for any Booker T. tracks from the same period. Mitchell's bands had revolving personnel, and this compilation features great playing from Leroy Hodges, Charles Hodges, Maybon "Teenie" Hodges, Reggie Young, pianist Joe Hall, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. on various tracks. It's the other side of the Memphis soul coin, music that'll make you want to dance around the room.

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