Like nine year olds demanding pizza for dinner every night of the week or old people continually cranking the heat in their homes until it resembles the Sahara Desert, there are some things that certain people just can’t get enough of.

For Larry Newton, owner of Derby Records, that thing was Freddie Mitchell singles.

The saxophonist has been the cornerstone of his label since it opened its doors in the late spring of 1949, not just as his most prolific solo artist but also backing most of the other acts the company hired on their releases.

Whatever Mitchell was paid wasn’t enough and here he is yet again getting in his monthly lung exercises on another instrumental.


A Charm From The Skies
Just how prolific has Freddie Mitchell been in 1950? Well, with this we’ll have covered fourteen of his sides thus far spanning eight singles and we’ve actually skipped two singles altogether… one in his flurry of July releases (three in total) and another in the fall.

Oh, and we’re still not done for the year.

That’s a pretty heavy workload for anybody, especially somebody whose records more or less all sound the same.

They’re technically different songs with different melodies of course but essentially they’ve all been following the same basic arrangement. While that makes it easier for him to lay them down one after another after another in the studio it becomes harder for us to find anything new to say about them month after month.

The same high points abound – usually a fairly solid, energetic sax workout midway through – as do the same shortcomings which are mostly centered around the choice of material itself (standards from pop or jazz) and the excessive use of a tinny piano as the one instrument given more or less equal time in the spotlight.

But while Home Sweet Home is no different in that overall assessment, there does seem to be a broader sound palette being used now and Mitchell’s aggressiveness on the horn, always hinted at but rarely consistently unleashed until earlier this year, is being accentuated.

Is that enough to get us to leave our homes for him this time out?

It just might be.


Be It Ever So Humble…
This is yet another song that Mitchell has reached back into the dusty pages of history to drag out of storage for a new airing.

How far back, you ask? Try 1891. That’s when John Yorke Atlee released the original take on the song which he more famously recorded in 1898 for Berliner Records.

Mitchell wasn’t one of those who heard either of those recordings firsthand as he wasn’t born until 1918, by which time at least 21 versions had been released before most of the world even had the means with which to play them.

In the subsequent years Home Sweet Home had been cut by such luminaries as Morton Downey, Deanna Durbin, Vera Lynn and Bing Crosby but none of them, it’s safe to say, envisioned it quite the way Mitchell would tackle it here where the pianist takes it slow and easy – monotonously so, as usual – only to have Freddie come barging in and rocking up a storm.

That’s a welcome change from the way everyone else did it because frankly the song is pretty boring under almost any other circumstances by any other artist, no matter how talented.

What makes such a bland song enduringly popular, or at least endlessly quotable, is its hook line… “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home”.

Obviously Mitchell dispenses with that because nobody is around to sing, but while undoubtedly the song is familiar thanks to the pianist sketching out that familiar part first it’s Mitchell amplifying that same melodic progression with his arrival which adds a sonic boom to the proceedings.

Normally I’m not a big fan of repeating something somebody else already did on the record – see most of The Orioles cuts where George Nelson sings the same line Sonny Til had earlier – but here Mitchell’s performance is so titanic by comparison it’s almost like seeing a before and after advertisement for some muscle building regimen come to life in front of your eyes… you can’t help but be impressed.

…There’s No Place Like Home
Is that enough to make this record really good?

Maybe not, though it’s good to see a bass being plucked and some other horns huffing behind the piano in the intro which give this a little more depth than a lot of his earlier records.

But that first forty second solo, especially how violently it kicks off, is really, really good and considering that the saxophone’s role in rock this year has taken a back seat to other elements (often for the betterment of the style as a whole it should be added), it’s nice to see Freddie Mitchell is not letting his instrument go down without a fight.

The concept itself – from source material to the arrangement – may be stale, but when you have Mitchell armed and ready for bear waiting to explode then the studio at Derby Records is like Home Sweet Home for him… at least as long as it remains standing after he blows up a storm.

Yes, every house on his street is the same… the same model, the same color with the same car in the driveway, but it’s roomy with a nice yard and it’s still the one neighborhood where the rowdy tenor sax is sure to find shelter and that’s enough to convince us to come in.


(Visit the Artist page of Freddie Mitchell for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)