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 Motown's 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, Southern-fried soul. Think Stax with a touch of Detroit sparkle. As a whole, the album demonstrates the self-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 album's centrepiece is undoubtedly the iconic, brooding minor-key masterpiece "A Love That’s Worth Having". The album's most recognisable track, it's a towering ballad drenched in stylish, sliding horns and elevated by its stunning backing vocalists. It was famously sampled by Madlib to augment his soundtrack for Stones Throw's Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton as well as 9th Wonder for the Murs classic "Dreamchaser". 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.
Horn-heavy opener "Ain’t Gonna Stop" is a funk-fuelled monster, Hutch's fatback vocal aided by a vicious drum ‘n’ conga rhythm whilst the bumping uptown soul of "You Can’t Miss Something That You Never Had" anticipates the Motown-vibe that Hutch went on to create. Supple guitar licks propel the loping, head-nod breaks of "Good To The Last Drop" whilst "That’s What I Call Lovin’ You" features gospel piano and plaintive, tender vocal turn. Rounding out Side A, the blazing horns of "You Gotta Try" hints at the Blaxploitation that was to come.
Ushering in the flipside, the thundering proto-70s-Motown rhythm of "Let Me Give You The Love You Need" segues neatly into the bouncing Northern Soul favourite "Lucky To Be Loved By You" whilst Hutch’s gutbucket guitar stylings are all over the smouldering "Keep On Doin’ What You Do". "Your Love Keeps Liftin’ Me Higher" is not a rendition of the Jackie Wilson classic; rather, it’s a powerhouse original that indicates where Hutch would take his sound on The Mack. Closing the album, the anthemic "Do What You Wanna Do" name-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 decade’s very best. Tricky to find for a number of years, this lovingly produced reissue is certainly welcome. Paired with the soaring follow-up, Season For Love, these recordings shine a new light on the early work of a soul legend. Officially licensed and remastered for vinyl by Simon Francis, it has been pressed on audiophile 180g vinyl for the first time and features the original artwork and liner notes.