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Millie Jackson: Exposed

Reviewed by Heikki Suosalo

Rating: 8/ 10

(Southbound, CDSEWD 164; track listing:; 12 tracks, 57 min.)

  Subtitled “the multi-track sessions mixed by Steve Levine”, we are treated to twelve songs recorded between 1971 and ’78, when Millie Jackson was at the height of her career and kept releasing truly soulful singles and concept albums on Spring Records.  In the notes Steve explains that “I’ve tried to keep my remixes true to the original artistic vision and spirit that the producers and engineers used on the original recordings.”  Actually there’s an over half-an-hour-long video of Steve telling about this project in detail:  Besides Steve, in the notes also Tony Rounce writes about Millie’s career and her music.

  Among the five charted singles on this set there are two down-tempo and three up-tempo songs.  The rollicking My Man, a Sweet Man became Millie’s biggest dancer, although she wasn’t too crazy about the song in the first place.  “That’s because I had a staff producer Raeford Gerald, who was a complete Motown fanatic.”  That was Millie’s answer to my question, why did they release such simple dancers after an impressive and thought-provoking ballad titled A Child of God (not included here) a year before.  The other two charted dancers here are Bad Risk and Boney M’s Never Change Lovers in the Middle of the Night.

  In 1973 Millie’s powerful performance of It Hurts So Good turned into the biggest hit of her career.  This ballad was written by Phillip Mitchell and first cut by Katie Love, and now Millie’s producer was Brad Shapiro.  “They brought him in, because they were tired of the Motown sound and I was tired of it, too.  So they brought him in for to try and get a more soulful sound.  It was between him and Don Davis.”  The second charted deep ballad on the set is Millie’s version of If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want to be Right), but here in the remix I find the echo effect on Millie’s vocals somewhat strange and uncomfortable.  Both It Hurts So Good and If Loving You Is Wrong were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, where from now on she cut most of her records up to 1981.

  As Steve points out, the innovative production and arrangement of the third great soul ballad on this CD called I Cry bears a resemblance to Norman Whitfield’s work in the early 1970s.  The rest of the tracks on the set are not the most obvious choices, but more mid-tempo poppy numbers - Kiss You all Over, originally by Exile, and I’ll Continue to Love You – or dancers like Help Yourself and House for Sale, which actually is closest to disco here and written by Homer Banks and Carl Hampton. 

  >Closest to funk are Go Out and Get some and a duet with Isaac Hayes named Sweet Music, Soft Lights and You.  “I called the company to let me use the song (You Needed Me, not here) for a duet with Joe Simon.  I don’t know why, but Joe didn’t do the song.  So I looked down the roster to see who else I can do it with --- that’s it, Isaac Hayes, the two rappers, we’re perfect!”

  Steve writes that “I’ve been a fan of Millie Jackson’s recordings since I was a teenager in the early 1970s.”  Millie is also one of my idols, and - although my choice of songs would have been different - it’s always a pleasure to listen to her music, and especially now after “restoring some of these sessions to their former glory.” 

© Heikki Suosalo

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