Malford Milligan proves Life Will Humble You

For those who don’t know of him, here is a singer that may sound like he was assigned to Slytherin House, but Malford Milligan has been around the block, as they say. With eleven previous albums as a solo artist (and with Storyville) plus appearances on approaching thirty other releases (Marcia Ball, Doyle Bramhall, Sue Foley, Chris Smither, Eric Johnson, Double Trouble and others); he has graced many a stage with his soul, blues and gospel songs and he has been compared to Otis Redding and Al Green for his mellifluous delivery. Based in Austin, Texas, Malford has now assembled a formidable group of Dutch blues musicians and formed the Southern Aces as the backing for his latest release, Life Will Humble You. Co-written by his friend and previous collaborator, Jack Hustinx, they have composed a ‘rites of passage’ sort of collection that reveals the highs and lows of their journeys to date. The emotions these two have enjoyed and suffered are conveyed effectively across thirteen tracks that are soul, country and R’n’B with a little bit of blues always spicing the mix and a band of great skill surrounding the melodies with solid and imaginative backing.

It all starts with I’m Glad To Do It, and a familiar yet fresh and tasty picked chord sequence heralds crystal guitar and then a voice that has a range, depth and passion that immediately grabs you. This soul song has an almost intangible feel that even a true blues man like me, cannot help but be drawn in to and start comparing the lyrics to my own life…something that happens on all of these songs. The Man I Used To Be is next and brings an acoustic guitar backing with organ and electric adding texture. It’s a sort of country soul song that again hits the spot…both lyrically and through the complex layers of instrumentation. The organ solo is as engaging as Malford’s voice and the (way, way too) short guitar solo is exquisite in its simplicity. Getting Over You starts with an acoustic of great tone before he again grabs you lyrically…we have all been there! Some delightful slide phrases and a short solo that could occupy the whole album for me is understated and beautifully played and heightens this soulful ballad. Even the accordion in the background works to add colour. I Don’t Mind It At All changes everything: a great piece of R’n’B with staccato chord work on the guitar and the piano adding efficient and apt plinking. This is firmly based in the 50s and yet you’ll still think Marc Bolan was playing rhythm guitar, but that’s where he found some of his (electric) inspiration after all. Title track, Life Will Humble You, is back to acoustic chord progressions that remind me of the intro to House Of The Rising Sun, which isn’t a bad thing. Once again the lyrics can reflect so many personal events and yes, Malford you are right: if you’re honest with yourself, life will humble you if you give it some time. This balladic structure is brightened by subtle accordion and some nice electric guitar punctuations. Yo Yo is next and is a bit up and down (sorry!) as the guitars build atmosphere and the vocal is the best so far with the lower register used to great effect as life is reflects the actions of said YoYo and another beautiful, understated, short guitar solo lifts it further. The organ also makes this a real multi-layered slow soul song. I’ll Take Care Of It All is a bit bluesier with country layers as the slow acoustic work of chords and slide sound so clear and expressive. Lyrically, he hits the spot once again…either he has been reading my diaries or we have a lot in common. All This Love is another acoustic soul song of quality with delicious electric guitar and piano/organ washes. The accordion solo shouldn’t fit so well…but it does. Slow Train is Stax at its best and I say that even though it isn’t my normal fare (pun intended!)…although very few Stax records have such inventive, apt and ingenious guitar and organ solos. Desperate Decisions has an intro of voice and organ that both pull the heartstrings with the truths therein. The guitars, particularly the slide, again lift this above songs of a similar ilk. I Won’t Surrender is electric soulful blues with a catchy chugged guitar phrase. The accordion is a little misplaced on this one to my ear as I was expecting harmonica…on subsequent listens, it does actually work as it emulates what a harp would normally bring. The slide guitar solo is (too short!) another example of suiting the right number of notes to the overall feel. When Love Brings You To Tears gave me pause before I even heard it…if his lyrics here are as expressive as some of the others, then I’ll be in trouble. Organ and acoustic guitar washes across the backing and really adds a depth that this sort of song rarely has. (I managed to hold back the tears, but it still brought some memories flooding back). Final track, Feel Like Going Home, features Dutch singer-songwriter, JW Roy who is an established, prolific and successful blues to pop artist in his homeland. The first half is piano and vocal on this ballad, then JW Roy joins in a duet with Malford and closes the album with sadness and hope.

So, how do I sum up an album of soul music; of music I would rarely choose? Well, quite simply, every track is impeccably constructed and played and, whilst I am not converted, I will certainly welcome any of these when they come up on shuffle. If you enjoy soul played with passion, class and skill, then I guarantee you will love this.

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. I’m Glad To Do It
  2. The Man I Used To Be
  3. Getting Over You
  4. I Don’t Mind It At All
  5. Life Will Humble You
  6. Yo Yo
  7. I’ll Take Care Of It All
  8. All This Love
  9. Slow Train
  10. Desperate Decisions
  11. I Won’t Surrender
  12. When Love Brings You To Tears
  13. Feel Like Going Home

Musicians:

Malford Milligan: vocals

Jack Hustinx: guitar

Eric van Djisseldon: guitar

Harry Bodine: guitar

John Magnie: organ, accordion

Roelof Klijnn: bass

Roel Spanjers: piano, organ

Nicky Hustinx: drums

Steve Amedee: drums

Apologies to any ‘guest’ appearances missed

Recorded at Muscle Shoals and Stax studios.

Malford Milligan proves Life Will Humble You

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