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Monday, February 7, 2011

Amos Milburn: The Motown Sessions


1) My Daily Prayer; 2) My Baby Gave Me Another Chance; 3) I'm In My Wine; 4) I'll Make It Up To You Some­how; 5) Don't Be No Fool; 6) In The Middle Of The Night; 7) Chicken Shack Boogie; 8) Bad Bad Whiskey; 9) One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer; 10) It's A Long, Long Time; 11) I'm Gonna Tell My Mama; 12) Bewildered; 13) Darling How Long; 14) Hold Me Baby; 15) Baby You Thrill Me; 16) I Wanna Go Home; 17) Mama's Boy; 18) I'll Leave You In His Care.

So jump blues could never hold its own against the onslaught of rock'n'roll, with Little Richard and Chuck Berry whisking away its black audiences and then the white rockers sealing its fate completely. Not that Milburn's last years with Aladdin records really passed under the glowing sign of the boogie — he was clearly drifting more and more towards the «blues» side of his per­sonality, but even there he was clearly losing out to electric Chicago stuff.

No big surprise that in 1957 Aladdin finally went down, and brought Amos down with it. Being less lucky than Big Joe Turner, who succeeded in finding a safe 1950s haven on Atlantic (and was probably the only big star of jump blues to make a profitable transition to R'n'B), Milburn hung around several different labels without too many results (I could not easily locate the re­cordings he made for Ace, King, or others) — resurfacing one last time on Motown records in the early Sixties, with Berry Gordy probably just taking pity on the guy.

For Motown, Milburn settled on simply re-recording the old classics. He cut a bunch of singles and even an entire — his first and only — LP, confusingly entitled Return Of The Blues Boss (even though, to the best of my knowledge, no one ever knew him under such a nick name, not even in his best days). Nothing sold or charted, and not even Gordy could hold the guy on the la­bel for more than two years, whereupon Milburn went into complete oblivion, had a stroke in 1972, a leg amputated in 1975, and died five years later.

Frankly speaking, though, these Motown recordings are solid evidence that either Amos really was washed up by 1962, or, more likely, that there was not a single person around him that knew the way to make his talents serve the new decade. All of these eighteen tracks sound well enough, but Milburn's greatest strength — the fantastic piano playing — is criminally understated; on half of the tracks, he is not given the proper chance to shine at all, and on the other half, the piano is criminally buried in the mix. This may be in accordance with Motown's general emphasis on en­semble playing, with the vocalist(s) being the only element of the sound that is allowed to stick out, but in this case, why sign the guy at all? He certainly has always had a nice singing voice, but in the world of the early 1960s, with Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter, Smokey Robinson, and Ja­mes Brown ru­ling the waves, what chance could the faux-titled «blues boss» ever have?

In the end, The Motown Sessions may be of minor interest not so much to fans of the old boogie woogie sound, but rather to... Stevie Wonder completists, since «Little Stevie» is credited for contributing harmonica parts on some of the tracks. All that's left is to issue a warning — do not mistake these re-recordings of 'Chicken Shack Boogie', 'One Bourbon', 'Bad Bad Whiskey' and other classics for the originals. Remember, an Amos Milburn original must have the piano in the role of lead vocalist — and the vocals accompanying it. Not vice versa. Thumbs down.

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