Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #832:
Little Milton – Grits Ain’t Groceries
Milton Campbell’s 1969 second album, a mix of live and studio tracks, perfectly capsulizes the point where the blues had evolved to include elements of 60s soul and funk. Little Milton’s growling, charismatic presence here owes more to singers like B.B. King, but the songs sprawl out with long vamps and intros like Lou Rawls and his contemporaries were doing in the mid-60s. Little Milton was always better known as a frontman than a guitarist, but here he reminds how underrated he was, with a bite and a precision similar to Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, or what Buddy Guy was doing early in his career. They open it slowly with Let Me Down Easy and follow that with the blustery, iconic title track: “If I don’t love you, grits ain’t groceries, eggs ain’t poultry and Mona Lisa was a man.” Subsequent controversies over who Mona Lisa really was only enhance the drama. There’s also a fervently stretched-out cover of B.B.’s I Can’t Quit You Baby, the sultry blues ballad That’s What Love Will Make You Do and the haunting, epic Blind Man and Walking the Streets and Crying that ends the album. Although he never quite hit this hard again, pretty much everything Little Milton ever recorded is worth owning, even the crooner albums from his Malaco Records period later in his career. After a life on the road, vital to the end, Little Milton died suddenly of a stroke in 2005. Here’s a random torrent.
Move over, Eleni Mandell. Make some room, Rachelle Garniez. Neko Case, scooch. Meet the next great noir chanteuse: Jennifer Niceley. Tonight the Tennessee singer/guitarist held the crowd at the Rockwood spellbound throughout her all-too-brief, barely half-hour set. Singing with a smoky, slightly breathy contralto rich with jazz and soul inflections and playing a hollowbody Danelectro Les Paul copy with just a hint of distortion, she proved as adept at sunny soul music as the eerily glimmering, reverb-drenched, slowly swaying minor-key ballads that she clearly loves so well. Her best song of the evening, possibly titled Shadows & Mountains, describes a woman taking a long, David Lynch-esque drive through the night. At the end of the song, after she’s finally gotten past them, she ends up at the edge of a lake praying in the dark that everything will be all right. Niceley followed this with two more slow, torchy minor-key numbers from her new album, Luminous, that were equally chilling.
Growing up in the country in East Tennessee, she explained, her father was a huge Jimmy Rodgers fan, so she played a slightly jazzed-up version of one of his songs. She also treated the audience to her own rearrangement of the Bobby Bland/Little Milton blues classic Blind Man (which she retitled Blind Woman), a showcase not only for her vocals but also for her lead guitarist, who played the most riveting solo we’ve heard all year long. Using a slide, he swooped around, pushing the beat as if to mimic the sound of backward masking (sounds like somebody in this band’s been listening to Jim Campilongo!). At the end, he abandoned the effect and flew up the fretboard to the highest registers, throwing in a couple of lickety-split, Ravi Shankar-ish licks to seal the deal. The crowd was awestruck. It’s early in the year, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if this turned out to be the best show of 2008. If the aforementioned Mme. Case, Garniez or Mandell are your cup of tea, or if you love Snorah Jones’ voice but wish the girl would grow up and learn how to write a damn song, don’t miss the chance to get to know Jennifer Niceley.