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The Phillip Mitchell Songbook
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With Kent's Songwriter Series well established as a regular feature of the Ace catalogue, they felt it was time to salute more great tunesmiths whose success as writers has been largely confined to the soul/R&B market. Few are more deserving than Phillip Mitchell a cult hero to many soul fans as a writer and a singer, and a man whose catalogue of songs is as consistently good as it is prolific. His songs have been recorded by some of the biggest names in soul particularly during the 1970s, when his name appeared under the title of many high-profile 45s. A quick perusal of the artists featured here will demonstrate how highly Phillip's songs were rated by his peers. It was not easy to whittle the mountain of great versions of Mitchell songs down to a representative 23 and there s plenty of scope for a follow up if this one sells as well as Kent expect. In-depth annotation, copious illustrations and a value-for-money, near 80 minutes worth of music will make this a must for every serious soul enthusiast.
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bonne pioche !!!!!!!!!!!
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Mitchell's two biggest hit songs as a writer were Mel & Tim's "Starting All Over Again," which climbed to #4 soul and #19 pop in 1972, and Millie Jackson's "Hurt So Good" a year later [#3 soul/#24 pop], featured on the "Cleopatra Jones" soundtrack. Neither of these two records is here, but both songs are - in different versions. Compiler and liner notes writer Tony Rounce has his reasons for this: 1) he favors top-drawer obscurities coveted by collectors; 2) he wants to work in as many different artists as possible. Other not nearly as chart-prominent samples of Mel & Tim's and Millie Jackson's Mitchell songs are included instead. It's Johnnie Taylor's album version of "Starting All Over Again" that appears here (hardly a disappointment!); and as a stroke of genius we get the finest obscurity this disc has to offer: the first female version of "It Hurts So Good" (from 1971) - by Katie Love & the Four Shades of Black. Obscure enough for you? Katie only had two known singles issued, which seems incredible, because this is such a superlative performance - sexy but more vulnerable than Millie Jackson's hit version. Millie, one of the greatest proponents of Mitchell's work, appears here with the well-chosen "Leftovers" from 1975 [#17 soul/#87 pop]. It's Millie at her feistiest as the other woman, while Mitchell portrays the cheating husband in the song's opening dialogue. The only other top 25 soul hit in this collection is "A Star in the Ghetto," the 1977 collaboration between Average White Band and Ben E. King. Phillip Mitchell as vocalist is represented with his 1972 Willie Mitchell (no relation)-produced Hi Records of Memphis release, "Little Things" (aka "It's the Little Things That Count"). It was kind of tough to break through as a recording artist there when Hi's male roster at the time also included Al Green, O.V. Wright, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson.
With 23 songs and a 76:40 running time you might expect a weak moment or two, but there just aren't any. I think the very best combination of song and performance on this CD is the uncompromisingly desolate ballad "It Be's That Way Sometimes" by Joe Simon. It first came out on his somewhat schizophrenic 1975 "Get Down" album, whose commercialistic disco tendencies were at odds with his startling emotional balladry that may have hit a career peak with this song. The four-minute edit put out as a single in 1982 is the version heard here. At the other end of the emotional spectrum is the joyous Mavis Staples locked-in-for-four-minutes-plus groover "Trippin' on Your Love," which I had never heard before. For a record that was deemed "unfinished" and never got a proper release in its day, this is pretty fantastic.
Other renowned soul artists interpreting Mitchell here include Bobby Womack, Mary Wells (Womack's sister-in-law at the time), Dorothy Moore, Candi Staton, Garland Green, and Archie Bell & the Drells (the delightfully written-to-order "Archie's in Love"). Among the obscure but brilliant ones, besides the aforementioned Katie Love, one finds Erma Coffee (her sole Hi release, "You Made Me What I Am," produced by Willie Mitchell), Sidney Joe Qualls, Ernie Shelby, J.J. Williams, and (I'm not making this up!) Bobo Mr. Soul, with the sixties-Motownish "Hitch Hiking to Heartbreak Road."
Phillip Mitchell fought a heroic battle to extend the great 1960s soul era as far into the 1970s as he could, up against the onslaught of mindless and inarticulate disco and dance-funk. He wrote as many danceable mid-tempo groovers (hence, their U.K. Northern Soul club popularity) as he did ballads, but you always want to listen to his expertly composed words that shine with originality.
As always, the Ace sound mastering is top-of-the-line. The colorful 20-page booklet contains Tony Rounce's informative and insightful observations about each song and artist. One nugget we learn is that Mitchell, at the behest of Atlantic Records, wrote "Starting All Over Again" for Sam & Dave in the hope that the two feuding former partners who had had so much success would get back together and record it. How did that work out? Very nicely...for Mel & Tim!
In a fair and just world, most of these excellent songs should have been massive hits, but of course due to the fickle nature of the music business that didn't happen, and Phillip Mitchell never garnered the acclaim that he deserved. Looking at the lineup of artists on this CD, you'll recognize a few big names, and they deliver some predictably great performances. The track by Joe Simon, "It Be's That Way Sometimes" has a deep, bluesy vibe, one of the best things I've heard him record. Another highlight is "Trippin' On Your Love" by the Staple Singers, with a terrific vocal performance by Mavis Staples. Johnnie Taylor also contributes a great version of "Starting All Over Again," and the Average White Band team up with Ben E. King for the sensational "A Star in the Ghetto." The tracks by Bobby Womack and Candi Staton are also quite good.
But some of my favorite tunes on here are ones by artists that aren't so well known. Sidney Joe Qualls vocals on "I Don't Do This" remind me slightly of Al Green, but it's "You Made Me What I Am" by Erma Coffee that really has that Hi Records vibe, the song dripping with a sweet Willie Mitchell horn arrangement. Yet another song that has that should-have-been-a-hit sound to it "Something New To Do" by Bobby Sheen. An irresistible slice of sweet soul.
This CD was compiled by the Kent/Ace label, which guarantees both high quality in sound and of course a deluxe booklet packed with details about these recordings and the career of Phillip Mitchell. Another outstanding compilation for lovers of 1970s soul music.