Soul Serenade: The Best Of Willie Mitchell

Willie Mitchell

The Right Stuff Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


When you think of instrumental soul music of the '60s, I'd bet most of you think of Booker T. & The M.G.'s, thanks to their hit "Green Onions". Even I think of that song right off the bat; having grown up with a copy of the song on 8-track tape, it became part of my childhood, and I loved it.

But another name might pop to mind: Willie Mitchell. If it does, you know that Mitchell's band was just as important to the scene (and, for that matter, just as good musically - if not better). If Mitchell's name doesn't ring a bell, you are missing out on a crucial part of soul music's history. Fortunately, thanks to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Soul Serenade: The Best Of Willie Mitchell, you can now educate yourself in just 45 minutes.

Mitchell was a jack-of-all-trades to his genre; he was a trumpet player, bandleader, arranger, songwriter and producer. And, unlike some people who are called a "jack-of-all-trades" sarcastically, Mitchell indeed was one, handling all the chores with great knowledge.

The more you listen to Soul Serenade: The Best Of Willie Mitchell, the more familiar some of these tracks might sound to you. On first listen, I heard tracks like "Soul Serenade" and "The Crawl," and I found myself saying out loud, "I think I know these songs!" Indeed, Mitchell and his band put together some solid instrumental work in their time, and these 20 tracks prove why Mitchell should be as recognizable a name as Booker T. Jones.

If there's a word that could sum up this disc neatly, it's this one: fun. Tracks like "Percolatin'", "Bad Eye," "30-60-90," "Poppin'" and "Ooh Baby, You Turn Me On" are just fun to listen to, even if they seem like they end just as the band is really getting into the rhythm. No single track on this disc comes close to the three-minute mark... and I'll admit there were times I wanted to hear this group just dig into the material and wail on it in an unstructured, unscripted jam. Now that would have been fun!

Then again, maybe the structure of the two-and-a-half-minute song was exactly what makes these tracks so special today. They get their musical point across, then they gracefully exit the stage. Better to leave with the audience wating more than to make them wish you would go away, I guess.

So why isn't Mitchell remembered in the same breath as some other soul artists? Truth is, I don't know... though this disc should help to rectify matters somewhat. Fans of good, well-written music of any genre should be impressed by the songwriting and musicianship that is put forth on this disc. Of course, if you love soul music, then picking this one up is a no-brainer.

Maybe the day is coming when Mitchell will be held in the esteem that he deserves. Let's consider Soul Serenade: The Best Of Willie Mitchell a huge step in the right direction.

Rating: A

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of The Right Stuff Records, and is used for informational purposes only.