Audio Remasterer: Vic Anesini.
Liner Note Author: Joe Marchese.
Recording information: Centaur Music Productions, Los Angles, California; Clover Recorders; Crystal Industries; Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, Shelfield, Alabama; RCA Studios, New York City; RCA's Nashville Studios.
Wilson Pickett went from a journeyman R&B singer to one of the most successful soul shouters in the game during his tenure with Atlantic Records, which began in 1965. But Pickett kept his eye on the bottom line, and in 1973 he signed with RCA Records, telling a reporter, "RCA made me a good offer which Atlantic didn't feel they could match, and I naturally took it." In retrospect, that deal might not have been as good as Pickett imagined, since the albums he recorded for RCA seriously underperformed on the charts, and they quickly dropped out of print. Mr. Magic Man: The Complete RCA Studio Recordings gives soul music fans a chance to re-evaluate Pickett's work for the label, as it includes his four studio LPs for RCA in full -- 1973's Mr. Magic Man and Miz Lena's Boy, 1974's Pickett in the Pocket, and 1975's Join Me and Let's Be Free. (A fifth RCA release, 1974's Live in Japan, doesn't make the cut.) Mr. Magic Man was cut in Philadelphia with producers Brad Shapiro and Dave Crawford, and while the title cut briefly scraped the lower regions of the pop charts, the album's polished, string-laden production, clearly meant to emulate the trademark Philadelphia International sound, was a bit too slick to make a good match for the Wicked Pickett, and while his vocals are fine, the album lacks energy. Miz Lena's Boy was a stronger set, and the opening cut, "Take a Closer Look at the Woman You're With," would prove to be Pickett's last single to make the pop charts (peaking at number 90). Pickett co-produced the album with Shapiro, and if remakes of "Memphis, Tennessee," "Never My Love," and "Help Me Make It Through the Night" don't seem inspiring, Pickett fills them with soul, and the latter has never sounded tougher and more physical. The Pickett and Shapiro team returned for Pickett in the Pocket, and prompted by tough backing from the Muscle Shoals Swampers, Pickett digs into a tough, deep Southern groove on numbers like "I Was Too Nice" and "What Good Is a Lie," while Jesse Winchester's "Isn't That So" turned out to be an unexpectedly fine choice for a cover. And while Join Me and Let's Be Free has a casual sound that suggests Pickett and producer Yusuf Rahman knew this was the shouter's last album for RCA, the best songs have a playful touch that brings out the humor in "Bailin' Hay on a Rainy Day" and "Mighty Mouth." Joe Marchese's liner notes are informative, and the remastering by Vic Anesini makes the most of the recordings, while mono mixes of four tunes have been included as a bonus. If none of these albums are lost classics, Mr. Magic Man: The Complete RCA Studio Recordings proves Pickett's RCA work was better than the legend suggests, and fans of '70s soul will find this to be well worth their time. ~ Mark Deming
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