Millie Jackson “On The Soul Country Side” (KENT UK CDKEND 418)
By Greg Mudry
Rose Colored Glasses; Here You Come Again; Angel In Your Arms; Pick Me Up On Your Way Down; You Needed Me; If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday; I Can’t Stop Loving You; Loving Arms; Till I Get It Right; Standing In Your Lane; You Never Cross My Mind; I Wish I Could Hurt That Way Again; Cheatin’ Is; Sweet Music Man; I Still Love You (You Still Love Me); Anybody That Don't Like Millie Jackson Aka If You Don't Like Hank Williams; Black Bitch Crazy Aka Redneck Crazy
“Millie Jackson:On The Soul Country Side” was released in June 2014. Millie Jackson is not readily associated with country music.Her early recordings were squarely in the mainstream of soul music, and her deep soul sides showed her at her very best. You can hear what I’m talking about in Episode 3 of the Sisters Sing Soul here. Nevertheless her country soul recordings as exemplified in this album are top notch examples of the genre.
Millie Jackson was a sharecropper’s daughter, born in tiny Thomson, Georgia in 1944. She moved north to Newark, New Jersey as a child, but has vivid memories of listening to country music back home. In the liner notes to this album she says, “Lot’s of people don’t know that when I was a little girl I didn’t hear anything but country music on the radio. Sometimes in the evenings we could pick up one of the big radio stations from Nashville that was broadcasting R&B. But it wasn’t really until my family moved to New Jersey that I realised there were lots of stations playing music other than country.” With that kind of background it’s not hard to see why Millie’s enormous talents as a soul singer combine so well with country music, especially the ballads.
Almost all of the 17 tracks on the album were recorded and released between 1977 and 1981, including six songs from her 1981 album, “Just A Lil’ Bit Country”. The opening song on the album, “Rose Coloured Glasses”, is in my opinion one of the two best in the whole set. The arrangement gives Millie lots of room to express herself, and she does so sublimely. This is a classic country soul ballad with Millie at her finest. Next comes “Here You Come Again”with a nice, bouncy groove, but I don’t think it’s an ideal vehicle for Millie although she does deliver a credible performance. The third song, “Angel In Your Arms”, is another fine deep country soul ballad in which Millie really shines. The song is just right for her.
There are two duets with Isaac Hayes on the album, and they both provide some very special listening. ”You Needed Me” has Millie singing from the depths of her heart with Isaac just about as good. The other duet, “You Never Crossed My Mind”, really tugs at the heartstrings. It’s clear that Millie was really into the session that produced these fine songs. I can’t say which of the two songs is better; they’re standout performances by both artists. One of the finest cuts on the album, “Loving Arms”, is an excellent country song that’s brilliantly interpreted by Millie as she superbly expresses aching pain and longing. There’s some lovely guitar work throughout.
Most of the rest of the songs are very good expressions of country soul. Millie is definitely more convincing when singing the ones with slower tempos, but she also has some fun turning Kris Kristofferson’s “If You Don’t Like Hank Williams” into “Anybody That Don’t Like Millie Jackson”. There are really only two of the 17 songs that don’t work for me. “I Can’t Stop Loving You” is delivered with an upbeat, funky approach that just sounds wrong. Millie is left to try to save the song, but that’s really asking too much. “Cheatin’ Is” has a reggae lilt to it that just seems out of place to me within the context of country soul.
That brings me to the final track on the album. Just this year Millie recorded “Black Bitch Crazy”, her first new recording in a number of years. The song proves that Millie hasn’t lost a thing over the years; she’s right at the top of her game. In my opinion this is one of the two best cuts on the album along with the opener, “Rose Coloured Glasses”. “Black Bitch Crazy” just grabs you from the outset and doesn’t let go. The song intensely expresses the deep pain, anger, and bitterness of betrayal. This is real soul.
If you’re a fan of Millie Jackson’s first three albums, or simply a lover of deep soul, then you should purchase “Millie Jackson: On The Soul Country Side”. You’ll be in for some great listening.