A monumental force firmly rooted in the soul canon, Willie Hutch is most notable for recording two of the best Blaxploitation soundtracks, The Mack and Foxy Brown. Yet his legacy is much greater.
Outside of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, Hutch was arguably MotownŠ—Ès top male solo artist of the 70s. Prior to his association with Gordy et al, Hutch crafted his opening statements for RCA, two vital LPs that Be With Records is honoured to present today.
His debut, Soul Portrait (1969), is an incredible slice of gritty, SouthernÎ_fried soul. Think Stax with a touch of Detroit sparkle. As a whole, the album demonstrates the selfÎ_contained act Hutch was; he wrote every tune on the album while also arranging and conducting for it. It features 11 timeless grooves, with a blend of beat ballads and undeniable dancers.
The albumŠ—Ès centrepiece is undoubtedly the iconic, brooding minorÎ_key masterpiece Š—“A Love ThatŠ—Ès Worth HavingŠ—?. The albumŠ—Ès most recognisable track, itŠ—Ès a towering balla drenched in stylish, sliding horns and elevated by its stunning backing vocalists. It was famously sampled by Madlib to augment his soundtrack for Stones ThrowŠ—Ès Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton as well as 9th Wonder for the Murs classic Š—“DreamchaserŠ—?. Whilst one can understand these iconic beatmakers for leaning on the work of a master, you really need to own the track in its full, unedited glory.
HornÎ_heavy opener Š—“AinŠ—Èt Gonna StopŠ—? is a funkÎ_fuelled monster, HutchŠ—Ès fatback vocal aided by a vicious drum Š—…nŠ—È conga rhythm whilst the bumping uptown soul of Š—“You CanŠ—Èt Miss Something That You Never HadŠ—? anticipates the MotownÎ_vibe that Hutch went on to create. Supple guitar licks propel the loping, headÎ_nod breaks of Š—“Good To The Last DropŠ—? whilst Š—“ThatŠ—Ès What I Call LovinŠ—È YouŠ—? features gospel piano and plaintive, tender vocal turn. Rounding out Side A, the blazing horns of Š—“You Gotta TryŠ—? hints at the Blaxploitation that was to come.
Ushering in the flipside, the thundering protoÎ_70sÎ_Motown rhythm of Š—“Let Me Give You The Love You NeedŠ—? segues neatly into the bouncing Northern Soul favourite Š—“Lucky To Be Loved By YouŠ—? whilst HutchŠ—Ès gutbucket guitar stylings are all over the smouldering Š—“Keep On DoinŠ—È What You DoŠ—?.
Š—“Your Love Keeps LiftinŠ—È Me HigherŠ—? is not a rendition of the Jackie Wilson classic; rather, itŠ—Ès a powerhouse original that indicates where Hutch would take his sound on The Mack. Closing the album, the anthemic Š—“Do What You Wanna DoŠ—? nameÎ_checks contemporary dance fads before instructing the listener to just get up and dance. Brilliantly supported by a heavy roster of studio cats who combined to create a winning combination of horns, strings, and gorgeous female background vocalists, Soul Portrait is as complete a soul album as the decadeŠ—Ès very best. Tricky to find for a number of years, this lovingly produced reissue is certainly welcome. Paired with the soaring followÎ_up, Season For Love.