Artist: Wilson Pickett
Label: Real Gone Music
Formats: 2-CD set, MP3
Release date: September 4, 2015
Alabama-born Wilson Pickett, one of the most famous Southern soul singers of the 1960s, was a mainstay on Atlantic Records, where Jerry Wexler molded Pickett and Aretha Franklin into the label’s biggest selling artists. In 1973, Pickett decided to leave Atlantic after receiving a better offer from RCA. Over the next three years he released four studio albums for RCA, which have now been restored by Real Gone Music and released on the two-CD compilation Mr. Magic Man.
Pickett’s first RCA album was something of a mixed bag, combining Southern soul tracks recorded at Muscle Shoals with slicker Philly soul songs recorded at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia. Dave Crawford and Brad Shapiro produced four of these Philly session tracks which were backed by the legendary group of Bobby Eli and Norman Harris (guitars), Ronnie Baker (bass), Earl Young (drums), and Larry Washington (percussion). The resulting album was named after Pickett’s first RCA single, “Mr. Magic Man,” a more pop-oriented song with a glossy string accompaniment that achieved cross-over success. The album showcased Pickett’s versatility as both singer and songwriter, with writing credits on eight of the ten tracks. Though the overdubbed strings are too prominent throughout, the Muscle Shoals tracks, such as “Sin Was the Blame,” hold up extremely well and are pure, classic Pickett.
Following shortly thereafter was the album Miz Lena’s Boy, also released in 1973. Named after Pickett’s mother, who he once described by as “the baddest woman in my book,” the album presents a much harder, funkier side of the artist. Recorded in Nashville, musicians included Detroit “Funk Brother” Dennis Coffey on guitar, Tommy Cogbill on bass, and musicians from Memphis’ American Sound Studio. The highlights of this album are the opening track “Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With” (a Blaxploitation-era funk workout that name checks Superfly) and the brassy closing song “Take the Pollution Out of Your Throat.” Alternate mono versions are included for “Take a Closer Look” and the country styled “Soft Soul Boogie Woogie.”
Pickett returned to Muscle Shoals and the Memphis Horns in 1974, producing Pickett in the Pocket, an apt title for the searing soul found on tracks such as “Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It,” by Paul Butterfield and Bobby Charles, and the gospel-inflected slow burner “You’re the One.” Regrettably the album failed to chart, but there are many fine tracks that have held up well over the years. Though it was rumored that Bobby Womack would produce Pickett’s fourth and final RCA album, instead he turned to Yusuf Rahman, who had worked with Charles Wright. Recorded in Los Angeles with tracks arranged and primarily written by Pickett and Rahman, Join Me and Let’s Be Free was released in 1975. Again, the album wasn’t a commercial success, but it’s full of great tracks ranging from the funky gospel of “I’ve Got a Good Friend” to the socially conscious “Higher Consciousness.”
Mr. Magic Man: The Complete RCA Studio Recordings is highly recommended for fans of Wilson Pickett and Southern soul, presenting the first restored and remastered reissues of his lesser known RCA albums, accompanied by a substantial booklet with informative liner notes by Joe Marchese. This set makes a great companion to Rhino’s 6-CD box set, Funky Midnight Mover, which presents his complete Atlantic studio recordings.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss