Little Milton,
Think of Me
(Telarc, 2005)

Little Milton can rightly be called a musical pioneer. After all, his impressive recording career spans more than half a century, starting out in 1951 on Sam Phillips' legendary Sun Records. Now the Blues Hall of Fame member makes his debut on the Telarc label with the wide-ranging album Think of Me.

Little Milton's guitar work is often reminiscent of B.B. King's call-and-response, single-string style. But in combination with his throaty tenor, it gives Little Milton a sound that's distinctive, confident and thrilling. Most importantly, this is a bluesman who knows how to be an ensemble player. And he has the sort of backing band that deserves recognition. Jon Tiven (guitar, harmonica, percussion), Sally Tiven (bass), Bruce Katz (organ) and Chuckie Burke (drums) are musicians that can certainly strut their stuff, and while Think of Me gives them ample opportunity to shine, they do so within the boundaries of their supporting roles. "Reconsider Me," for instance, is a showcase for both Tiven's guitar and Katz's organ but it's the restraint as much as the flash that's impressive. None of these musicians are out to steal the spotlight and it's the controlled power of their combined energies that creates a winning result.

Perhaps the best track on the album is "Let Your Love Rain Down on Me," a spectacular hybrid, bringing gospel and the blues together in perfect balance. "I thought God was an invention of the weak man, the ones who needed a crutch. But it was me who was the lame one. I was the one who needed the touch." The lyric is beautifully, passionately crafted and the interplay between the lead and background vocal lines is magnificent, underscoring the intensity and the humility with which Milton manages to infuse the song. It's inspiring.

On the following track, "The Blues is My Companion," the penitent at the microphone is looking for human rather than divine forgiveness. This is a standard 12-bar blues composition rendered anything but standard by Milton's exhilarating lead guitar and Bruce Katz's swirling organ. Over this dynamic bed Milton lays his soul bare with a pleading vocal that could win over any but the most heartless ex-lover. "Would you please, please take me back again?" he begs, "Oh I know it would be all right baby, if you'd just take me, take me back again. You see I know now that winners never cheat, no, and cheaters never win." This is a lyric that almost guarantees the singer a second chance at love.

About my only complaint with Think of Me is that the guitar breaks often feel abbreviated. I wish a couple of the songs could have afforded Milton and Jon Tiven the chance to really let loose and work their fingers across their respective fret boards. The restraint that elsewhere is the huge strength of this album could have been eased off in this one area to great benefit. Certainly allowing "The Blues is My Companion" to break out of the careful 3- to 4-minute song structure that dominates the rest of the album made that song a stand-out track. A similar relaxation of the rules on "That's Where It's At" results in an exuberant closing to Think of Me as Mark Sorrells' guest appearance at the piano is juxtaposed against Little Milton's lead guitar. Another moment or two of looseness would have elevated this album even further I believe. But in the end this is a minor complaint.

There's a breadth to the arrangements on Think of Me that keeps the album feeling fresh from top to tail, and credit must be given to the production team of Jon Tiven and Randy Labbe. Their ability to mine the blues, forge it together with bits of R&B, gospel, soul and rock-a-billy, and yet keep each song feeling like it's fully owned by Little Milton is extremely impressive. "You're giving me something wonderful" Milton sings at one point, and I'd have to echo that sentiment. Think of Me is truly "Something Wonderful."

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 13 August 2005

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