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Mitchell's New Charge



Producer Willie Mitchell is a busy man. In recent weeks, the legendary hit-maker had two major artists come through his Royal Studio, located at 1320 Willie Mitchell Boulevard: Tommy Boy signee Roy Young and doe-eyed guitar virtuoso John Mayer, both of whom cut tracks for forthcoming albums. But today, Mitchell's mind is occupied with thoughts of a more personal project, recorded with local songstress Mashaa.

"I'm a neighborhood girl," explains Mashaa. "I was singing at Stax when I was a teenager, and in the '70s, Estelle Axton brought me to Willie Mitchell."

For the next two decades, she toiled as a back-up singer, providing vocals for O.V. Wright, Ike Turner, Boz Scaggs, and Preston Shannon. She sang with her brother's group, the Total Package Band, at parties and clubs such as the Place 2 B. During what she calls "the disco days," she helped Gino Soccio land a #1 Billboard single with the song "Try It Out."

Now it's Mashaa's time for the spotlight.

Her new album, currently making the rounds at different labels, is a trademark Mitchell production: Shannon, Bobby Manuel, and Skip Pitts share guitar duties, while Leroy Hodges plays bass and Steve Potts plays drums. Mitchell himself plays piano. Lester Snell provides keyboards, and a crackerjack horn section starring Jim Spake, Scott Thompson, and Lannie McMillan rounds out the mix.

On songs like "Slippin' Away" and "Someone Else's Bed," both Malaco-styled PG-13 blues numbers, Mashaa's voice effortlessly slides from sugar to spice as the bottom drops out of the mix and horns swell, echoing her lament. Next, she takes on a Cuban flavor for "All My Life," penned by favorite Royal background vocalist Sandra Rhodes. "We Are One" is a buoyant, radio-friendly tune, while "Any Time, Any Place" sounds like an updated, soulful take on Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."

Granted, the music biz has come a long way since Mitchell scored his first hits back in the '60s, but the perennially suave producer -- who discovered Al Green and Ann Peebles and recorded career-making albums for Syl Johnson, Willie Cobbs, and other -- shows no sign of slowing down. With Mashaa, he may have struck gold once more.

Mojo beans, a lodestone, two tiny dice, one copper penny, a buckeye, nutmeg, quartz, and a Hershey's kiss: According to Pam McGaha, that's the recipe for "Pairadice in a Bag."

The last few weeks, McGaha has been busy assembling red flannel bags packed with voodoo power to promote her annual party, the StranjBrew HooDoo Festival, scheduled for Friday, April 28th.

As always, the roster for StranjBrew HooDoo pairs gritty elder statesmen, such as Jim Dickinson and Jimmy Crosthwait, with an eclectic serving of the contemporary local scene, including Amy & the Tramps, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans & Ross Johnson, Misty White, and Chopper Girl & The Underground Rap Alliance. The festival will take place at Murphy's and Madison Flame, both located at the intersection of Madison and Avalon.

"I grew up on [Catholic Youth Organization] dances and the blues festivals at Overton Park," recalls McGaha, who came up with the concept for StranjBrew HooDoo while serving on the staff of the music showcase Crossroads in the '90s.

The celebration will kick off a day early, when artist Tom Foster -- currently wrapping up a full-size comic book illustrating the North Mississippi Allstars' Electric Blue Watermelon album (he also provided the cover art for the CD) -- hosts Toad Frogster's StranjBrew HooDoo Art Show at Then & Again Gallery on South Main Street from 6 to 9 p.m. On Friday, the bands will crank up at 7 p.m.

"I'm just throwing the music that's been here day and night into a big pot, music that crosses every line -- gender, race, sex, politics, and religion. I love to get it all in the same space," McGaha says, "where it can brew and coagulate into something else."

Local garage-rockers hoping for an Oblivians reunion before the band (with their collaborator, New Orleans Hammond B-3 fiend Mr. Quintron) heads to Chicago for an already sold-out performance at Horizontal Action magazine's Blackout Fest might be outta luck: Apparently last weekend, while Eric Friedl and Jack Yarber were in Ashville, North Carolina, rehearsing with former Memphian Greg Cartwright, the trio staged an impromptu gig. Let's pray that they'll hold one more public practice session -- in Memphis this time -- before heading north in May.

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