Wilson Pickett – Mr. Magic Man (review)

Wilson Pickett – Mr. Magic Man – The Complete RCA Studio Recordings (Real Gone) review

Wicked Pickett’s post-Atlantic records, finally back in print

Wilson Pickett defined soul, with stone-cold classics like “Mustang Sally,” “In the Midnight Hour” and “Land of 1000 Dances,” all featuring his trademark, gritty vocals. But, by 1972, Pickett wanted a change. That year, he left Atlantic Records for RCA, recording a total of four albums for the label, all of which are collected on Mr. Magic Man – The Complete RCA Studio Recordings, recently issued on Real Gone Records.

Part of Pickett’s displeasure with his former label was their rejection of the smooth, Philly-soul-infused sounds of his album Mr. Magic Man, which RCA let him release in 1972. With trademark strings, and airy production, this was a different setting for Pickett to explore. The excellent title track sounds as good as other Philly artists like the O’Jays, and should’ve been a larger hit. Just because there’s lighter backing on many of these tracks, Pickett is still in fine form, strutting through “Baby Man,” a song about loving an older woman, and the topical “Sin Was the Blame.” Then, there’s the gorgeous ballad “What It Is,” which has the feel of the classic Stylistics’ singles, with Pickett pleading over top – it’s the standout of the record. He also revisits “If You Need Me,” a song he wrote during his Atlantic days, giving it a in-the-church feel, while “I Keep Walking Straight Ahead” sounds like a Spinners’ outtake.

Miz Lena’s Boy returned to Pickett’s gritty side – “Take a Closer Look at the Woman You’re With” is propelled by a funky bassline. He does several covers with mixed results – he imparts an edge to the Association’s “Never My Love, but his attempt to update Chuck Berry’s “Memphis, Tennessee” ends up sounding like jazz fusion – rather bizarre, while his upbeat take on “Help Me Make It Through the Night” really cooks. Both “You Lay’d It On Me” and “Is Your Love Life Better” actually border on hard rock, while “Two Women and a Wife” finds Pickett in familiar territory: trouble with multiple women.

Pickett in the Pocket begins strong with the brass funk of “Iron It Out” – he sounds re-energized here. “Isn’t That So” has a great line in “if (God) didn’t me watching women / he would’ve left my eyeballs dead.” Pickett co-wrote, “I Was Too Nice,” done in the classic blues ballad style of his earlier hits, complete with horns and organ. With his gruff voice upfront, it ranks as one of the real treasures of this collection. “Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It” is another standout – a great blend of rock and funk.

Join Me and Let’s Be Free is a mixed bag. The title track infuses some of Pickett’s gospel roots into an accessible pop tune, while “I’ve Got a Good Friend” could’ve been a hit on the gospel charts. He makes a bid for a political role in “Smokin’ in the United Nations,” and returns to smooth soul on “Gone.” But, much of the record fails to catch fire – everything still has great singing, but the songs this time just aren’t that good. So, tracks like “Mighty Mouth” and “Higher Consciousness” miss the mark.

Since these records have long been unavailable, it’s like finding four lost Pickett albums. Mr. Magic Man proves that Wilson Pickett was still delivering the goods in the Seventies. —Tony Peters