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Millie Jackson

Reviewed on this page:
It Hurts So Good - Caught Up - Still Caught Up - Feelin' Bitchy - Get It Out'cha System - Royal Rappin's - Live & Uncensored - I Had To Say It - Just A Li'l Bit Country - Live And Outrageous - E.S.P. (Extra Sexual Persuasion) - An Imitation Of Love - Rock 'N' Soul - It's Over!? - The Sequel: It Ain't Over!

Georgia-born, New Jersey-raised soul singer Millie Jackson is better known for her dirty mouth than her Gladys Knight-like voice, and she clearly doesn't mind, with album titles like Live & Outrageous and Not For Church Folk, but she shouldn't be dismissed as an exploitative joke (a role properly reserved for BWP). At her best she's a canny writer/producer and an intelligent, passionate performer, and she did pioneer the raunchy "tellin' it like it is" patter for which she's infamous. Jackson's only Top 40 pop hits came early in her career ("Ask Me What You Want" in 1972, and "Hurts So Good" the following year), but she became more influential as an album artist, melding songs by a variety of writers into conceptual suites. She faded as a commercial artist after the 70s and has fallen down chasing a few trends, but she has continued to come up with gems on occasion.

After some years of kicking around, Jackson now has her own label, Weird Wreckuds: for details see the official site. (DBW)

Millie Jackson (1972)
Much of the material here was by producer Raeford Gerald, but he wasn't involved with either of the singles, both co-written by Jackson: "A Child Of God (It's Hard To Believe)" and "Ask Me What You Want." (DBW)

It Hurts So Good (1973)
Mostly Southern soul/R&B ("Two-Faced World," powered by Steve Cropperish guitar licks) produced by Gerald again, fair but forgettable ("I Cry"). However, Brad Shapiro also got in a few cuts, with greater attention to detail and a punchier style: on the hit title track, the smooth backing behind Jackson's pained vocal makes her sound more like Gladys Knight than ever. The songs are from a variety of sources: Ashford & Simpson ("Don't Send Nobody Else"), Billy Nichols ("Close My Eyes"); Jackie Avery ("Love Doctor") - Jackson co-wrote the Temptations-like social comment "Hypocrisy." (DBW)

Caught Up (1974)
A loose concept album about the consequences of a love affair with a married man, viewed from various sides. The opening suite "If Lovin' You Is Wrong I Don't Want To Be Right/The Rap," a raid on Isaac Hayes's string-heavy slow funk stew, is one of the greatest recordings I've ever heard, as Jackson switches back and forth between tortured moans and sly monologues, capturing a novelistic range of feeling. The rest of the record is nowhere near the same standard, though: Jackson's heart doesn't seem to be in Side Two, where she plays the role of the scorned wife ("I'm Through Trying To Prove My Love To You"). Setting a pattern that would hold for the next ten years, Jackson and Brad Shapiro produced, and the musicians include the Muscle Shoals rhythm section (David Hood and Roger Hawkins). (DBW)

Still Caught Up (1975)
Picking up right where she'd left off, exploring marital discord from the perspective of the abandoned woman ("Loving Arms") over orchestrated Southern soul. The song material is sound, but the limits of Jackson and Shapiro's formula becomes evident, though: "The Memory Of A Wife" is a wonderful, wrenching song, but it would have been better without the obligatory lengthy rap. Shapiro nods to Motown with the vibes-driven, Holland-Dozier-Holland-sounding "You Can't Stand The Thought"; Jackson's long-running affection for country-Western music surfaces on Mac Davis's "I Still Love You (You Still Love Me)" (with a killer twist ending that caps off the album). (DBW)

Free And In Love (1976)
Several Jackson originals here ("I'm In Love Again"); there is a cover of Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love."

Lovingly Yours (1977)
With her version of High Inergy's "You Can't Turn Me Off (In The Middle Of Turnin' Me On)." (DBW)

Feelin' Bitchy (1977)
Another sexy soul gumbo, but the ingredients weren't exactly fresh. There's one extended, partly spoken piece in the vein of "If Lovin' You Is Wrong": "All The Way Lover," which uses a lick from Funkadelic's "Music For My Mother" as the basis for a Hayes-style funk groove while Jackson slams inconstant men and gossipy, soap-watching women. Side Two puts together a group of songs by different writers into a conceptual suite on, once again, infidelity: the stomping hard R&B "You've Created A Monster" is a standout. "If You're Not Back In Love By Monday" was a single, and her strong, dignified rendition is a powerful demonstration that concepts and trash talk aside, Jackson's a hell of a singer. But there's too much undistinguished material ("Angel In Your Arms," "Cheatin' Is"), and since Jackson didn't write anything here, that's hard to excuse: how hard is it to find good songs to cover? (DBW)

Get It Out'cha System (1978)
More thematically linked tales of trouble in the bedroom, this time focusing on what we now call erectile disfunction ("Keep The Home Fire Burnin'"), largely self-penned (title track). At times there's serious soul amid the clowning (a powerful version of Bobby Womack's "Put Something Down On It"), but not often. Mixed results also on two more remakes of country hits: a pointless, rote run through Mann and Weil's "Here You Come Again," and an amusingly overblown take on Kenny Rogers' "Sweet Music Man." (DBW)

Royal Rappin's (Millie Jackson & Isaac Hayes: 1979)
Not much of a collaboration, more a Millie Jackson record with duet vocals from Hayes. Trouble is, it's not a good Millie Jackson record. The songs are either disco-y pop ("Sweet Music, Soft Lights, And You") or limp ballads ("You Needed Me"), no theme and nothing memorable. The principals are unforgivably low-key; the only time they do try to generate some heat it's just silly ("Do You Wanna Make Love"). The low point is probably the cover of Foreigner's "Feels Like The First Time" - whoever thought of reusing the bass line from Peaches & Herb's disco hit "Shake Your Groove Thing" should be sent to a reeducation camp. The musicians aren't listed, though the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section is specially thanked. Produced by Jackson and Shapiro. (DBW)

A Moment's Pleasure (1979)
With "Never Change Lovers In The Middle Of The Night." (DBW)

Live & Uncensored (1979)
A double LP, mixing her hits ("All The Way Lover," "If Loving You Is Wrong") with other people's hits ("Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," Randy Van Warmer's execrable "Just When I Needed You Most"). There are plenty of her patented harangues ("The Soaps"), and she takes dirty talk to the extreme with the self-explanatory "Phuck U Symphony." Jackson also finds room for some actual singing, and she's impressive whether the material deserves it (the slow, affecting "What Am I Waiting For") or not (Toto's "Hold The Line"). Through it all, the Easy-Ak-Shun Band keeps a steady groove, and backing vocals can occasionally be heard from Brandye, Pure Gold, and Ray, Goodman and Brown. A comprehensive introduction to Jackson's varied talents, and a good value, though I suspect/hope that at least one of the 70s studio albums is more solid. (DBW)

For Men Only (1980)

I Had To Say It (1980)
The opening track is Jackson's response to early hip hop, and it's a self-contradicting mess: the whole track is spoken but sometimes she's mocking rap (a la Rodney Dangerfield's "Rappin' Rodney") and sometimes she's celebrating it; first she puts down black men for paying alimony to white women and ridicules overweight welfare recipients, and then a white male voice awards her an honorary KKK membership. All that might have worked with better music, but the backing is just a half-assed ripoff of Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks." However (and this is a big however), the rest of the album is affecting soul, mostly slow ("It's Gonna Take Some Time This Time," "Somebody's Love Died Here Last Night"), though "Ladies First" has rock guitars recalling Kool & The Gang, and "I Ain't No Glory Story" is rollicking country-western. One more lengthy infidelity suite - "The Rap '81"/"Stranger," in which she confesses picking up a one-night stand at one of her shows - is a blast. Most of the songs are written by Jackson: two with Shapiro and three with Al BreVard ("You Owe Me That Much"). (DBW)

Just A Li'l Bit Country (1981)
Just like it says, country tunes by the likes of Don Gibson (a disco version of "I Can't Stop Loving You") and some less obvious sources such as Neil Diamond (a pop/reggae "Love On The Rocks"), Recorded in Nashville, but except for Kris Kristofferson's "Anybody That Don't Like Millie Jackson," the material isn't done in a country style: it's either pure pop ("Rose Colored Glasses") or Jackson's usual Southern R&B ("Till I Get It Right"). An odd (and unsucessful) career move, with generally uninteresting results (the fine "It Meant Nothing To Me," with a low-key harpsichord part, is an exception). (DBW)

Live And Outrageous (1982)
Heavy on the comedy and very light on the singing, which I'm sure works for a good many of her fans. Since she'd covered most of her hits on her previous live album, much of the running time is turned over to well executed but pointless AM covers: Rod Stewart's "Passion"; Lionel Richie's "Still"; Kenny Loggins's "This Is It." There's also some new material: yet another infidelity suite, "Lovers And Girlfriends"/"Don't You Ever Stop Lovin' Me," that's played for laughs rather than emotion, but sure is funny; and "Ugly Men," a less funny standup routine set to a stripped-down funk beat. The one recent hit is the mock-rap "I Had To Say It," where she starts off talking about how much she hates performing the song, and ends up picking interracial couples out of the audience and threatening them - maybe her career low point or high point, depending on your perspective. Produced by Shapiro and Jackson. (DBW)

Hard Times (1982)

E.S.P. (Extra Sexual Persuasion) (1983)
The end of Jackson's association with Shapiro, Muscle Shoals and Spring Records, which is no surprise, as everyone involved seems out of ideas and enthusiasm. There's the usual mix of cautionary tales ("This Girl Could Be Dangerous"), dirty jokes ("Sexercise") and ballads ("I Feel Like Walkin' In The Rain," with guitar from co-author Wayne Perkins), but everything's at half-speed and cursory. Jackson's boredom with the enterprise is most obvious on "Too Easy Being Easy," a lengthy dressing-down of women living out the male-subservient hypersexual caricature she'd spent the last decade constructing - there was always something contradictory about her self-assurance and desperation, but paradoxically here it's both less conflicted and less pleasant. (DBW)

In 1985, Jackson recorded a duet with Elton John, "Act Of War."

An Imitation Of Love (1986)
Jackson scrapped her 70s Southern soul approach in favor of modern synth-pop/funk, with a mix of producers including Timmy Allen, Joylon Skinner and Wayne Braithwaite. So it's programming and drum machine-driven, but with a relatively light touch, which makes even also-ran tunes like the reggae-tinged "Love Is A Dangerous Game" palatable. On the other hand, Jackson's personality doesn't particularly shine through ("Hot! Wild! Unrestricted! Crazy Love" doesn't live up to its title), so there's no reason to hunt down stuff like her cover of Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover." Plus the disc is marred by a couple of horrible songs: "Mind Over Matter" and the indecipherable social comment "It's A Thang" (a single, for some reason). (DBW)

The Tide Is Turning (1988)

Back To The S__t (1989)
Title refers to Jackson's renewed potty mouth after the previous "clean" album flopped. A live record including a bunch of Imitation Of Love tunes ("Hot! Wild! Unrestricted!") with a few covers (a slow, sincere"Will You Love Me Tomorrow?") and soliloquies ("Muffle That Fart"). Jackson's Easy-Ak-Shun Band doesn't fall into the 80s crashing synth trap, so the disc's as listenable as her other live albums even if the material isn't as compelling. Full review coming soon. (DBW)

Young Man, Older Woman (1991)

Young Man, Older Woman: Cast Album (1993)
Jackson cooked up a stage show based on the previous album's title tune, and toured with it for a few years. This album of songs from the show was (I believe) the beginning of a four-disc association with Ichiban Records. (DBW)

Rock 'N' Soul (1994)
By the mid-90s, most 70s artists were giving up on current sounds and going retro, and Jackson was no exception: here the 80s synths are replaced with horns and guitars, the drumming is live (or sounds it), and most of the songs stick to soul ("Chocolate Brown Eyes") or blues ("Love Quake") conventions. Even Shapiro returned, producing six tracks with Jackson, and co-writing two. However, the song material is horrendous: ballads ("Ledge Of My Life") and uptempo numbers ("Don't Walk Away") alike are tuneless and dull. The low point is either the ludicrously faithful cover of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me," with a male chorus drowning Jackson out on the choruses, or the screechy, rambling message tune "Somebody Shoulda Heard Me." Betty Wright co-wrote and co-produced the drab fightin'-over-a-man-ain't-nobody-oughta-be-fightin'-over song "Check In The Mail." The extended rant "KMJF" is not one of her best, but here it stands out, with the only intriguing wordplay on the disc. (DBW)

It's Over!? (1995)
A small but definite improvement, as Jackson settles into a brand of retro-soul that's one part city blues ("Don't Give Up On Me Now") and one part country-western ("I Just Watched My Love Burn Down"), both parts driven by stinging electric guitar (by Scott Migone) and horns. The lyrics all deal with soured romance, but without the humor or ring of truth she usually brings, and the arrangements are mostly straight down the middle (the ballad "I Can't See Me Without You," suspiciously similar to Michael Jackson's "Man In The Mirror"). So the songs with sharp hooks work (the guitar- and horn-backed "You Ain't Killing Me (The Way I Want To Die)"), but everything else doesn't (the painfully dull I'll-take-your-man ballad "I Don't Want To Be Your Friend"). Two covers: the John Waite hit "Missing You" and Al Jackson's "Breaking Up Somebody's Home." Otherwise, mostly written and produced by Jackson; Wright wrote and produced "The Lies That We Live." (DBW)

The Sequel: It Ain't Over! (Millie Jackson And Cast: 1997)
The Young Man, Older Woman story continues; this show wasn't as successful as the first one, but the cast album is shockingly good. Mostly produced by Jackson and Douglas Smith, and they keep the sound clean, uncluttered and loud, as the song material ranges from soul (Al Green's "Let's Get Married") to hip hop (the riotous title track, with a rap by MC Breed) to country-western (the reactionary, Bible-thumping "Simple Man" by Charlie Daniels, with twin guitar leads, is better than anything on Li'l Bit Country). The heavy funk "We Got A Good Love," with Jackson belting her lungs out over a screaming guitar (Migone again) is one of her best tracks to date. Jackson and Smith wrote nearly all the songs; he sings three (including a duet with Jackson on "Did You Think I Wouldn't Cry"), Keisha Jackson (the forgettable ballad "Two Sparrows In A Hurricane") and Ray, Goodman & Brown ("She's Still Crazy") sing one each, and Jackson sings the rest. Well, except for the clever lecture on ending relationships "Let 'Em Go," which is spoken. (DBW)

Not For Church Folk (2001)
On Jackson's own Weird Wreckuds label. With a guest appearance by Da Brat on "In My Life." (DBW)

Yep, I had to say it.

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