Although the late Willie Hutch enjoyed a huge amount of success for Motown in the 1970s – he’s best remembered for his soundtracks to the black action movies ‘The Mack’ and ‘Foxy Brown’ – he began his recording career many years earlier. Born in Los Angeles as William McKinley Hutchinson and raised in Dallas, Texas, Hutch cut his musical teeth in a high school group the V-Notes, who got to tour with Lee Dorsey and Roy Orbison in the late ’50s. In the early 1960s, after a stint in the US Marines, Hutch returned to Los Angeles and joined a group called The Phonetics. He wrote some tunes for them, which they recorded for the small Trudel label. This eventually led to Hutch getting a solo deal and in 1965 he released his debut 45, ‘Love Has Put Me Down,’ a one-off single for West Coast indie, Soul City. Following this, Hutch recorded a couple of tracks (‘Love Runs Out’ and ‘The Duck’) for Dunhill Records before briefly joining the Modern label in 1966 for ‘I Can’t Get Enough.’ Significantly, that track was produced by Marc Gordon – manager of flower power soul-meets-easy group The Fifth Dimension – and Hutch hooked up with Gordon again during a second stint at Soul City in 1967 that produced the 45 ‘Can’t Fight The Power.’ Still unable to find a permanent recording home, Hutch joined a MGM-funded label called Venture as a writer/producer and hit chart pay dirt in 1968 with the single ‘God Bless Our Love,’ which he produced for the harmony quartet The Ballads. In 1969, after gaining attention for writing the flipside to a big Friends Of Distinction hit, Hutch was offered an album deal by RCA. What resulted was ‘Soul Portrait,’ the first of two LPs that Hutch cut for the label (the other was 1970’s ‘Season For Love’). Given the musical excellence and pleasing soulful consistency of ‘Soul Portrait’ – and the fact that one of its tracks, the gorgeous shuffle-beat groove that is ‘Lucky To Be Loved By You,’ is adored by the Northern Soul community – it’s hard to fathom why no record company, large or small, has reissued it until now. Thankfully, though, Clive Richardson’s excellent Shout label is doing a sterling job in licensing forgotten back catalogue gems from the ‘couldn’t-care-less’ major labels and targeting the collectors and anoraks who appreciate their efforts to bring cult and hard-to-find vinyl to CD. Though recorded four years before Hutch hooked up with Motown, there’s nothing remotely juvenile about ‘Soul Portrait’ – Hutch’s sound is, in fact, mature, fully-formed, and totally in keeping with his later Motown efforts. From the very first track, the uptempo ‘Ain’t Gonna Stop,’ the hallmarks of Hutch’s distinctive style – ranging from his husky, pleading, tenor voice to the chord sequences he uses – will clearly be apparent to those familiar with his later work. ‘Good To The Last Drop’ is an excellent mid-tempo ballad that recalls down tempo moments from classic Motown albums like ‘Mark Of The Beast’ and ‘Color Her Sunshine.’ Other highlights include the driving, up-tempo ‘You Can’t Miss Something That You Never Had,’ the vibrant mid-tempo ‘Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me Higher’ (not to be confused with the Jackie Wilson song with the same title) and the passionate slow jam, ‘A Love That’s Worth Havin’.’ To sum up, this is a superb album and one that no self-respecting soul fan should be without – let’s hope Shout reissue Hutch’s other collectable RCA LP, ‘Season For Love,’ too.