Willie Hightower ‘Out Of The Blue’ LP/CD/DIG (Ace/SoulTrax) 5/5

I downloaded this ten track album a short while after it surfaced and Dave Porter at P & P (formerly Vivid Sound), sent me a lovely vinyl copy. I got quite emotional listening to this album the first time, I would never in a million years thought I would have this great man back in my life in 2018. He’s 77 and together with Memphis producer Quinton Claunch, who is 96, have produced what must be one of the true great complete albums, easily able to sit side by side with any album you would care to mention, soul in abundance but I can also hear country and the blues too. We’ve all got dusties on our shelves cut by Willie, he sounds so so good at the minute. The sleeve notes by John Broven tell a tale and a half of how Willie was found; he was still on the road with a band called Class Act playing gigs around his local area in Birmingham, Alabama and more widely Georgia, and how he was linked up with Quinton and how the MP3 of the beautiful “I Found Out” landed at Ace, hence we have this wondrous long player to add to our listening pleasure, and with so many people to be thankful for.

I have been spoilt this year with the quality of new release material, but this is head and shoulders above and will almost certainly be the complete soul album of the year. My favourite track at the minute is the easy paced stroller, “Somewhere Dry”, a Billy Lawson/Tommy Brasfield piece. The whole sound appears muted and subdued with Willie in his element, a torrid tale of loneliness in the midst of a breakup, the song fades with Willie in full lament “I tried my best to make her love me”. Freddie Hart’s “Easy Lovin” is another that’s vying for needle time, a head nodding foot tapping replay here. Lyrically this album is on another level and all aspiring writers should grab a listen, real songs sung the way they should be. Musically the album is a full on treat with Milton Sledge on Drums and percussion, Bob Wray and Billy Lawson on Bass, Clayton Ivy and Mark Narmore on Wurlitzer and B3, Bad Brad Guin on Sax, Ken Watters on Trumpet, Travis Wammack, Will McFarlane and Billy Lawson on Guitars. On backing vocals we have Mike Curtis, Kenyata White, Charles Stewart, Chris Goodloe and Shelton Cotner. Recorded and mastered at Wishbone Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama by Billy Lawson. We are in a good place over here soul wise and with the increase in Sunday Soul sessions where we appear to be liberating tracks from our collections that would not normally feature anywhere other than our own record room, then the time is right for this album to be exploited nation wide. My only gripes are that there wasn’t a digital download provided with the album and the lack of an out-and-out ballad, but never mind, this is a wonderful album, heartily recommended and deserved of the five star status.

Brian Goucher