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The Century Ends (12/31/99) Write to CD Shakedown
Willie MitchellSoul Serenade: The Best of Willie Mitchell (Hi Records/Right Stuff 1999) - Soul man Willie Mitchell is best known as the producer for such Memphis greats as Al Green, Ann Peebles and Syl Johnson. Yet Mitchell's skills went far beyond straight production work, as he was a solid musician in his own right.

Soul Serenade is a long-overdue compilation of instrumental tracks recorded by Mitchell and his band in the 60s and 70s. Recording around the corner from the famous Stax studios, Mitchell worked in what has been called "America's most soulful neighborhood."

Willie and bandWillie Mitchell's music career started in 1954, when he was discharged from the Army and returned to his hometown of Memphis. The trumpet-playing band leader soon assembled an ace band and began playing to fans all over the city, including Elvis Presley, who hired Mitchell repeatedly to play his private parties in town.

In 1959, Mitchell switched to Hi Records and began his 20-year affiliation with this classic soul label. Mitchell was the father of the much-emulated Hi Record sound, with swirling organ fills, chugging horn arrangements, and a steady four/four drum beat.

Willie MitchellSoul Serenade finds Mitchell working with an A-team of Memphis studio musicians, including Leroy Hodges on bass, Teenie Hodges on guitar, Charles Hodges on organ, and Howard Grimes on drums.

With songs like "20-75" (so named as the single was Hi Records catalogue number 2075), "The Crawl," and "Buster Browne," Mitchell displays an effortless horn-based soul sound, with catchy riffs and a steady beat.

Willie MitchellWhen Hi Records founder, Joe Cuoghi, died in 1970, Mitchell was left in charge of the label. While his solo recordings declined, Mitchell went on to produce such hit records for Al Green as "Tired of Being Alone," and "Love & Happiness." Mitchell retired from Hi Records in 1979, and now operates a Beale Street Nightclub, "Willie Mitchell's Legends."

The album also includes extensive liner notes from music historian Bill Dahl, who writes, "These songs add up to a stunning Memphis soul legacy overflowing with in-the-pocket innovations that would leave Willie Mitchell standing tall in the annals of R&B history, even if he'd never crossed paths with Al Green."

Right on. It takes a large talent to help singlehandedly mold a music style. And Willie Mitchell had the talent. A fine companion to the Hi Records three-CD box set, Soul Serenade shows the legacy of Willie Mitchell.

Patsy Cline Duets Vol. 1Patsy Cline, Duets, Volume I (Private I/Mercury 1999) - Can we give bonus credit for sincerity? Because veteran producer Michael Blakey had all the best intentions with Duets, Volume I.

Yet, the end result is a disappointment. Blakey started with 11 tracks recorded more than 35 years ago by Cline (who died in a plane crash at age 31).

Patsy and her daughter in 1959Blakey then digitally enhanced the vocals, added in contemporary instrumentation and additional orchestration (as if Cline's original studio recordings weren't overly orchestrated to begin with), and then tagged on new "Duet" vocals from a cache of country favorites, including Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, and Crystal Gayle. The resulting product is not easy to digest.

Duets, Volume I is the first of three planned volumes of Patsy Cline duets. According to producer Blakey, "because the original key and integrity of the music was not changed, the new performers had to sing with ease in keys that fall within Cline's recordings."

Patsy in 1962And some do work smoothly. For example, "That Wonderful Someone," with gospel artist Bob Carlisle, clicks in, as does the duet with Beth Nielson Chapman, "If Only I Could Stay Asleep."

The album also includes a well-made enhanced CD Rom section, with video footage, lyrics, a photo gallery, and other goodies. The enhanced CD Rom section was developed by IQ CD and works flawlessly.

The young Patsy But in the end, I just want the classic Patsy Cline, with her show-stopping voice. There's no point in trying to rearrange songs like "Crazy Dream" or "Walkin' After Midnight": the original records are classics (find the live recordings from the Grand Ole Opry), and the new instrumentation is hard to accept.

Patsy Cline had a one-in-a-lifetime voice. Instead of Duets, Volume I, let's enjoy the memories.

Widespread PanicWidespread Panic, 'Til The Medicine Takes (Capricorn 1999) - After nearly 15 years of constant touring, Widespread Panic is a tight ensemble that has developed a following as one of the best live bands in the business. With their ninth album (and the follow-up to last year's live double disc, "Light Fuse, Get Away"), the Athens, Georgia-based combo finds itself expanding its songwriting efforts.

Widespread Panic consists of John Bell on vocals and guitar, John Hermann on keyboards, Michael Houser on guitar, Todd Nance on drums, Domingo Ortiz on percussion, and Dave Schools on bass. The group also released a one-off project in 1995 with Vic Chesnutt entitled "Nine High a Pallet."

The bandFor the new album, long-time producer John Keane (who has worked with R.E.M., Cowboy Junkies, and Indigo Girls) asked the band to draw up a laundry list of ideas and guests to help form a fresh sound. Widespread Panic remains innovative, as tracks like "Christmas Katie" have a decidedly bluesy influence.

In a grooveGuests on 'Til The Medicine Takes include gospel diva Dottie Peoples, who spices up "All Time Low," the Dirty Dozen Brass Band on "Christmas Katie," and twangy banjo from producer Keane on the upbeat "The Waker." Also appearing on harmony vocals is Anne Richmond Boston, formerly of the Swimming Pool Qs.

Tracks like "Bear's Gone Fishin'" and "One Arm Steve" find the band working in its groove-laden stronghold, with a jammin' feel, driven by a poly-rhythmic percussion section. Southern boogie-rock at its best, 'Til The Medicine Takes is another accessible serving from Widespread Panic.

- Randy Krbechek © 1999

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