Over the last few years Ace Records have been running a quite magnificent series that focuses on the great American songwriters of the classic pop era. The Ace team have now decided to turn their attention to some of the top writers in the soul genre… and they kick off with one of the very best –Phillip Mitchell.
“Prince” Leroy Phillip Mitchell was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1944 and he became hooked on music at an early age. He enjoyed a physically itinerant musical career and it seems he couldn’t decide whether his major talent was as a performer or writer. As time went on, however, he seemed to realize that success as a performer didn’t come easy and, moreover, it didn’t always depend on simple talent. So, “the Prince” concentrated more and more on writing and this lovely 23 tracker brings together some of his best songs – performed by some of soul’s top talents.
Listening, you’ll quickly appreciate the attraction of a Phillip Mitchell song. A son of the South, his songs have their roots in the store-front churches of the Delta but from an early age he idolized Smokey Robinson and so Mitchell’s songs also possess the optimism, polish and vibrancy of big city, “uptown” soul. His work is full of gorgeous melodies and catchy hooks but it’s all rooted in “proper”, classic soul sensitivities. His oeuvre combines the best of the rural South and the urban North. Here, hear that at its very best on Sidney Joe Quail’s ‘I Don’t Do This (To Every Girl I Meet)’. The 1979 Chi-Sound recording is Stax meets Motown but recorded in Chicago … a recipe for soul perfection.
That one’s a clear album standout but there’s so much excellence here that cherry-picking is a quite redundant exercise. Let me just point you to some personal favourites – John Edwards’ ‘Cold Hearted Woman’ shows why the Spinners were so quick to nab his signature when Phillipe Wynne left; Archie Bell’s ‘Archie’s in Love’ is joyously life-affirming; Bobo Mr Soul’s ‘Hitch-Hiking To Heartbreak Road’ makes you realize why you got mixed up in the crazy world of soul in the first place … one of Mitchell’s personal favourites, that one, we’re told. And while we’re talking personal about our man try the semi-autobiographical ‘A Star In The Ghetto’ . Mitchell recorded his own 7 minute plus version –but here the song’s offered in a shorter, more polished version by Ben E King and the Average White band … marvellous stuff.
Other artists featured on the album include Mel and Tim, Garland Green, Bobby Womack, Millie Jackson, The Staple Singers, Johnnie Taylor, Mary Wells and Mitchell himself. With names like that and songs like Mitchell’s you have an all-round excellent soul compilation… don’t miss it.