Back in 1966 Chess Records released one of the more iconic R&B albums of its time, the much-admired “Little Milton Sings Big Blues”. At that time, the great James Milton Campbell was one of the hottest soul men around, coming off the back of two huge hits with ‘Who’s Cheating Who’ and ‘We’re Gonna Make It’. His career would sustain for a further 40 years, embracing dozens of albums and a goodly number of hit singles.
For almost 20 of those years Milton was a Malaco Records artist, which ensured he was always recorded in a manner sympathetic to his artistry and was the recipient of quality material, much of which came from the company’s own line-up of writing talent. Milton had started as a blues man in the early 50s and had almost come full circle by the time he joined Malaco. But throughout his Malaco years he always cut soul music as well as blues tunes. 18 of the best soul sides are collected here as something of a belated follow-up to “Sings Big Blues” – this time titled “Little Milton Sings Big Soul”.
Although Milton cut other soul tracks for Malaco, our project centres on the songs that had been recorded by others. Among those Milton pays tribute to in this collection are James Carr, O.V. Wright, Brook Benton, Bobby Womack and several fellow and former members of Malaco’s roster, among them Johnnie Taylor, King Floyd, Dorothy Moore, McKinley Mitchell and Z.Z. Hill. Milton also revives songs by his former Chess colleagues Etta James and Mitty Collier and even finds time to pay tribute to himself, via an excellent revamp of his own ‘We’re Gonna Make It’. On the singer-songwriter side, he explores the catalogues of George Jackson, Phillip Mitchell, Frederick Knight and others that are guaranteed to excite lovers of southern soul. These being Malaco recordings, Milton is backed by the finest musicians the south could offer.
Little Milton may no longer be around but the tracks he left us – 18 of the very best of which make up this essential set – are a testament to his excellence.
By Tony Rounce