How time flies when you’re enjoying yourself – here at Ace, we’ve now been part of the CD revolution since 1987! It seems like only yesterday that our pioneering efforts were unleashed on a still uncertain market that, in the main, was still thinking (and perhaps hoping) that here was another big idea that would soon go away, and leave us to enjoy our big 12 inch vinyls in peace.
Well, Ace and our contemporaries in the reissue business have come a long way, since the days when we all used to proudly emblazon our tray cards with slogans like “Contains over 50 minutes of music”. However, some of our early CD releases haven’t necessarily come all the way with us, in terms of reproductions and packaging. Over the past few years, we’ve been selectively upgrading our biggest sellers to give them a 21st century look and sound. And a recent, exhaustive review of our Millie Jackson tape inventory has now given us a barely needed excuse to sonically upgrade and otherwise enhance several of Ms Millie’s biggest sellers from here original Spring catalogue.
We start this month with her seminal CAUGHT UP album - with his ‘companion piece’ “Still Caught Up” to follow hot on this one’s heels next month. We originally released both these albums on CD back in March 1992 – surprisingly, they were not our first Millie reissues, but we got to them as soon as we could! Since then, they have sold consistently in their old skool, non-annotated, four page booklet form. To be fair, nobody’s ever complained about the packaging, but these are prestige albums that deserve better and I consider myself privileged to be the “Man at Ace” whose responsibility it is to try to make them better.
In the course of doing so, I’m happy to say that all the albums in this short, ongoing series are being remastered from the original ¼ inch production tapes that were used to create the stampers for the original Spring issues. All the mastering is coming from brand new transfers of these original tapes, rather than from the transfers that were used to create our first CD issues. We’ve also reviewed all the surviving Spring multitrack tapes to seek out any unissued tracks or alternate takes that we feel will enhance the original vision of these albums. Millie told me when we started to work up these projects that, by the time she started to produce her own records (a sequence which commenced with “Caught Up”), she pretty much went into the studio with a firm idea of what she was going to record and that few, if any, unreleased songs would be found on the multitrack reels. However, she also told me that – again, in many cases – she would sing a live vocal with the Muscle Shoals Swampers (as they were billed on the original albums) to get the feel of the song, and then go back and refine her performance for the actual release. Those original live vocals, she believed, should still be on the multitracks – and she was right. She had no objections to our using these ‘first takes’ as bonus tracks, and so on every CD, after some sympathetic mixing from our friend and regular collaborator Rob Keyloch, we are able to present Millie in a way that you’ve never heard her before. Incidentally, Rob and I did also find a considerable number of previously unissued songs. While none of them pertain to this album, you’ll be hearing them all during the course of subsequent releases in this series.
“Caught Up” was a landmark album for Millie and for black American music. She had total artistic control on this album for the first time. It was also her first album to be recorded exclusively in the town that is akin to Mecca for all devotees of Southern Soul, Muscle Shoals. And more importantly, while it wasn’t soul music’s first ever concept album, it was inarguably the first one to look at three sides of a romantic triangle and put its main viewpoints across in such a frank and unexpurgated manner. It may also have been the first album to spawn a hit R&B “rap” when the six minute spoken section of Millie’s killer version of (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right introduced the listening public to Funky Drawers and breached the R&B Top 40 when issued as a “public demand” 45 after the album reached the Top 5.
Above all, it consolidated Millie Jackson’s already pretty solid reputation as a first tier soulstress, and provided a benchmark for all subsequent endeavours of its kind to live up to. Millie is still very proud of “Caught Up” as she has every right to be. This refreshed, remastered and newly expanded version will appeal to those who have appreciated its brilliance for a long time and we’re confident that it will also bring a whole lot of new converts to Millie’s substantial fan army.
(Oh yes, and let’s not forget the special bonus for all Northern Soul fans, Rob K’s specially mixed, vocal-less version of Millie’s perennial floorfiller A House For Sale.)
By Tony Rounce