The Good: Generally good, funky sound
The Bad: This is "It's Harder Now" with one less track!
The Basics: An extraordinarily disappointing cashgrab involving the final material Wilson Pickett produced, It Ain't Easy is It's Harder Now, but with one less track!
Every now and then, I find myself feeling seriously cheated by an album. As February draws to a close and I look to finish up the last works by Wilson Pickett that I've been able to get in, I find myself once again dismayed. The reason for today's disappointment is simple: while listening to It Ain't Easy from the Essential Recordings collection from Rounder Records, I began to feel that the album was suspiciously familiar. A quick check of the track lists confirmed that It Ain't Easy contains eleven of the twelve songs from It's Harder Now (click here for that review!). I suppose, in order to cash in on Pickett's final album again, Rounder Records decided to re-release the tracks in a different order and without the truly lousy "What's Under That Dress?"
But, even though I'm not a fan of the crass, I can't see a reason to buy this album when It's Harder Now has all this and one more song. Even as Pickett entered his final years, he seemed to have something to say, but It Ain't Easy takes that message and slices one song out, reorders it and expects the listener to get something different from the result.
I did not.
Instead, It Ain't Easy is saddled with the same problems as the original recording had. First, it is instrumentally overproduced. The songs on this album are more funk than soul or R&B. Instrumentally, this means the album is more keyboard-driven than dominated by an actual brass section for backing the singer.
Second, Pickett's voice breaks frequently on the album. He might have enthusiasm and even a smooth sound on "Better Him Than Me," but after a lifetime of emotively screaming many of his songs, he appears to have less range and certainly less force. This is captured effectively on "It's Harder Now" (the single), but on the other songs, it just sounds unfortunate.
Finally, lyrically, the album suffers for fans of Wilson Pickett's songs because this album transformed him from a smooth, sensual singer to a man just trying to compete in an increasingly graphic marketplace. "All About Sex" is pretty much just that; there's no desire, no passion, it's just a song about another score. Similarly, "Taxi Love" is a musical exploration of exhibitionism and it's remarkably classless. This is the closest to auditory smut Pickett ever came and it's an unfortunate swan song for his career.
Fortunately, one need not bother with adding this to their collection. If you want Wilson Pickett's final album, pick up It's Harder Now, get the full experience that he helped create and put an order to. This seems to be a cashgrab whereby Rounder hopes one won't notice they are getting less and nothing new.
For other works by Wilson Pickett, please check out my reviews of:
The Exciting Wilson Pickett
The Wicked Pickett
I'm In Love
In The Midnight Hour And Other Hits
The Very Best Of Wilson Pickett
For other album and singles reviews, please visit my index page!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.