Wilson Pickett – 1973 – Mr. Magic Man
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Review by Richard
Rip, Research, Posting and additional info’s by Nikos
Mr. Magic Man, Wilson Pickett’s first album for RCA after leaving Atlantic, finds Pickett paired again with producers Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford to craft a smooth, stylish album of Memphis-style soul injected with Pickett’s gravelly tenor and a helping of left-over Philly production. The Wicked One had previously worked with the two at Atlantic as recently as the Don’t Knock My Love album however the sound here is a departure from the up-tempo, funky clav, experimental instrumentation of that previous album. Shapiro, who would later work with Millie Jackson on several classic albums, seems to be working to transition Pickett from the wild, screaming, “Exciting” Wilson Pickett, into a romantic, more mainstream balladeer: “Mr. Magic Man”, if you will.
A1 Mr. Magic Man 3:20
A2 Only I Can Sing This Song 3:08
A3 Love Is Beautiful 2:49
A4 I Sho’ Love You 4:14
A5 Baby Man 3:40
B1 Sin Was The Blame 3:58
B2 What It Is 3:33
B3 If You Need Me 3:44
B4 I Can’t Let My True Love Slip Away 3:25
B5 I Keep Walking Straight Ahead 3:08
The swinging horns from Land of 1000 Dances or New Orleans have been replaced with lush string arrangements; the tempos have been slowed; bluesy guitar has been replaced with syncopated playing. The results are mixed and Pickett is still best here when he strips away the pretentious, velvety airs and gets back to his sweaty southern roots. Help me!
Overall, the album has a very produced, very deliberate feeling to it owing mostly to the abundant and overused string arrangements. The lack of spontaneity here is the greatest detriment – feeling like Pickett’s restrained vocal accents and screams were purposefully written into the music at very particular places. Those who like their Pickett raw, dirty sax blaring, sounding like he’s jamming with the band on the first take, are going to be less impressed by this effort – particularly the title track. However, hearing Pickett tackle some down-tempo numbers is, in many ways, a refreshing pause for the maturing singer. The album’s cover gives the first big clue that the music inside is trying to be more candlelight and less spotlight. Pickett, looking like he showed up stag to the senior prom, is perched awkwardly on the cover in an unfortunate, wide-lapelled crushed velvet suit with exaggerated cravat. Inside, the liner notes unconvincingly proclaim Mr. Magic Man is “perhaps the most interesting piece of music thus far.” A strange commentary for this album since one need only to go back as recently as Don’t Knock My Love, Parts 1 & 2 to hear a truly interesting piece of music.
Flawed production and crushed velvet aside, the highlight here is still Pickett himself. While the instrumentation on many of the songs is, for the most part, uninspired, and Pickett is lacking his trademark inflections, his voice is still one of the most soulful ever put to wax and it is hard to disguise that fact even if he is frequently drown out by string arrangements and dull vocal accompaniments. Pickett, to his credit, is also trying out new music here with limited cover material and that helps to make the album sound fresher. While side 1 is a little uneven, I Sho’Love You pulls things together and the record really builds, picking up on side 2 with the fantastic Sin Was the Blame. This is one of the best cuts on the album with its Stax-feel and wailing organ; it is about as much as Pickett is going to cut loose this time out (throw that cravat aside!). The remainder of the album maintains a very strong southern-soul feeling, losing a lot of the over-production that plagued the first side and culminating with a superior reworking of the Pickett-penned, slow-burner If You Need Me which seems to find new depth in Pickett’s aging voice
Intro Review by Soulmakossa, Main Review by RDTEN1
Rip, Research, Posting and additional info’s by Nikos
A dozen times funkier than his first effort for RCA – the mellow ‘Mr. Magic Man‘ – Wilson Pickett’s second LP for the label is all about hard socking Southern Soul, the groove… and how to stay there.
The vicious funk-rock of “Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With” proves that point succinctly. A bubbling, electrifde jam filled with biting guitar parts and a hardcore funkin’ finale, check the Wicked one as he shouts out ‘HOW ‘BOUT THAT?’ after the very first verse.
Going for some Meters-styled swamp boogie, Pickett turns in a highly idiosyncratic version of the Chuck Berry standard “Memphis, Tennessee“, and comes up with his own brand of ‘mellow dance’ music with the typically not so mellow “Soft Soul Boogie Woogie“, a delicious struttin’ fingersnapper riding a solid, powerful groove.
Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” is souled up a bit, but Wilson sounds somewhat bemused by this offering – he sounds far more at ease on the old-school love song “Never My Love“.
The flipside is a festival of sweat-soaked funk, with no breathers whatsoever. The fatback romp “You Lay’d It On Me” makes good on its title, but the filthy, muddy, rock & soul funk of “Is Your Love Life Better” really takes the cake…
Being far from through, Pickett then soars through the humoristic “Two Women and a Wife“, something of a wild funk jam with some surprisingly melodic elements; drives a speeding train of sanctified handclappin’ soul on “Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind” and finishes the groovathon with the nasty, raw, angry stomper “Take the Pollution Out Your Throat“.
Probably Pickett’s finest album for RCA.
A1 Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With 3:22
A2 Memphis, Tennessee 3:51
A3 Soft Soul Boogie Woogie 2:39
A4 Help Me Make It Through the Night 2:57
A5 Never My Love 4:26
B1 You Lay’d It On Me 3:14
B2 Is Your Love Life Better 3:14
B3 Two Women and a Wife 2:56
B4 Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind 2:43
B5 Take the Pollution Out Your Throat 3:02
His second album for RCA Victor after ending his decade long partnership with Atlantic, the album found Wilson working with producer Brad Shapiro (Pickett co-produced). With the pair also co-writing half of the ten songs I really didn’t know what to expect from the set. Moreover the few reviews I’d seen weren’t very detailed, or positive.
– The album certainly got off to a rousing start with the Pickett-Shapiro original ‘Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With‘ which was as driving and funky as anything he’d done for Atlantic.
– While I initially yawned at the thought of hearing the second song; a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Memphis, Tennessee‘ Wilson breathed new life into the song giving it a strange but beguiling Caribbean lilt. Sounds weird, but somehow it worked.
– The same was true for ‘Soft Soul Boogie Woogie‘. It initially came off as being a too-cute novelty song, but propelled by a nice mini-moog rhythm pattern and a driving vocal, Pickett won me over.
– Kris Kristofferson’s ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night‘ has always been one of those songs I disliked and there was not reason to think a Pickett cover would save it. Amazingly he almost pulled it off. The song still sucks, but by going up tempo with it he came close to salvaging the track.
– In contrast slowing down the old Association hit (mis-credited to the Addrisse brothers – no ‘e’ at the end), was a mistake. All he did is stretch ‘Never My Mind‘ to the limits of endurance.
– Yeah, ‘You Lay’d It On Me’ had that ‘tossed off’ feel with one or two too many of those patented Pickett shrieks. ‘Course mediocre Pickett was better than 95% of disco acts.
– At least to my ears ‘Is Your Love Life Better‘ was one of the three tracks that came the closest to replicating Pickett’s classic sound. Would have made a nice single.
– The second song that replicated his classic soul sound was the Pickett-Shapiro composition ‘Two Women and a Wife‘. With a great melody, catchy lyric, and dynamite performance, it was perfect for radio play, but somehow got stuck as a ‘B’ side.
– Pickett’s always been in peak form when he was pissed off at a woman, or another man. The last two tracks ‘Why Don’t You Make Your Mind Up‘ and ‘Take the Pollution Out Your Throat‘ found him in that state of mind and were my two favorite efforts.
– Another Wilson-Shapiro composition, the hyper speed ‘Why Don’t You Make Your Mind Up‘ would have sounded good on any of his Atlantic albums.
– I remember seeing the title of the second song and wondering if Pickett was making an environmental statement. He wasn’t, rather was taking on a trash-talking ex. Classic pissed off Pickett !!!
Having listened to the album dozens of times I’m at a loss as to why critics overlooked the set and why it didn’t sell better. One of the best post-Atlantic things the man ever recorded.
RCA also tapped the album for a pair of singles:
– 1973’s ‘Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With’ b/w ‘Two Women and a Wife’ (RCA Victor catalog number APBO-0049)
– 1973’s ‘Soft Soul Boogie Woogie’ b/w ‘Take the Pollution Out of Your Throat’ (RCA Victor catalog number APBO-0149)