LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk (Label: Shout)

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LITTLE MILTON: If Walls Could Talk

Despite a committed fan base – here and in the States – Little Milton (Campbell) never quite made it to the major leagues and this reissue of his fourth full album for Chess/Checker perhaps explains why. Born in a sharecropper’s hut in rural Mississippi, his first love was the blues, and singing and playing a mean guitar in that genre for labels like Sun and Meteor he enjoyed some local success. That success brought him to Chess at the time when the label was beginning to experiment with what to become labelled “soul”. Working with producers like Billy Davis and Calvin Carter, Milton’s sound became a kind of hybrid of tough blues and the new soul music and though he did score a decent run of hits, maybe his music was too bluesy for the uptown soul crew and too smooth for the blues crowd. Here on ‘If Walls Could Talk’ you can clearly hear that dichotomy. There’s plenty of straight blues and generous helpings of brassy soul along with a fetching mix of both styles – best typified by a frantic reading of ‘Kansas City’. Standout cut though is a lovely version of Jimmy Holiday’s ‘Baby I Love You’, which proves that the man was a contender. The LP’s original eleven tracks are boosted with five extra cuts, including ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ – which remains his best known cut in the UK. When Chess folded Little Milton went to Stax where he was allowed to return to a more full-on blues approach. After Stax and a succession of smaller labels he eventually found a home at Malaco, where his impactful blues won a Grammy nomination. Little Milton died in 2005 aged 75, leaving a substantial back catalogue which is worth serious investigation by anyone who cares about real, committed black music and this 17 tracker is an excellent place to start.
(BB) 3/5