Thursday, 5 August 2010

“The Complete Checker Hit Singles – 24 High Fidelity R’n’B Classics” by LITTLE MILTON, A Review of the UK 2001 Connoisseur Collection CD.

"…Like Medicine Baby…You’re Good For Me…"

After diligently collecting nearly 1000 Chess, Checker and Cadet tracks across the years, I still find I have only 8 Little Milton songs - so the remaining 16 tracks on this rare UK compilation are welcome inclusions.

A few details first - the word 'Hit' in the title means that just the songs he placed on the US Rhythm 'n' Blues charts between 1962 and 1971 on the Checker label are featured here (some Checker singles didn't chart and are not easily available anywhere on CD). Also all tracks are A-sides except "The Dark End Of The Street" and "I Can't Quit You Baby" which are B-sides (see notes below).

Here's a breakdown of what is on Connoisseur Collection VSOP CD 351 (71:50 minutes):

1. So Mean To Me (January 1962, Checker 994)
2. Losing Hand (July 1962, Checker 1020)
3. What Kind Of Love Is This (August 1964, Checker 1078)
4. Blind Man (December 1964, Checker 1096)
5. We're Gonna Make It (March 1965, Checker 1105)
6. Who's Cheating Who (June 1965, Checker 1113)
7. Your People (December 1965, Checker 1128)
8. We Got The Winning Hand (February 1966. Checker 1132)
9. When Does The Heartache End (April 1966, Checker 1138)
10. Man Loves Two (August 1966, Checker 1149)
11. Feel So Bad (January 1967, Checker 1162)
12. I'll Never Turn My Back On You (June 1967, Checker 1172)
13. More And More (December 1967, Checker 1189)
14. The Dark End Of The Street (1968. Checker 1203)
[B-side of "I (Who Have Nothing)", a non-chart entry, listed here as a `bonus track']
15. Let Me Down Easy (October 1968, Checker 1208)
16. Grits Ain't Groceries (All Around The World) (January 1969, Checker 1212)
17. I Can't Quit You Baby (January 1969, Checker 1212)
[B-side of "Grits Ain't Groceries...")
18. Just A Little Bit (April 1969, Checker 1217)
19. Let's Get Together (July 1969, Checker 1225)
20. Poor Man (October 1969, Checker 1221)
21. If Walls Could Talk (December 1969, Checker 1226)
22. Baby I Love You (April 1970, Checker 1227)
23. Somebody's Changing My Sweet Baby's Mind (July 1970, Checker 1231)
24. I Play Dirty (May 1971, Checker 1239)

Connoisseur Collection were a budget label operating out of Britain in the late Eighties and used to release very good double-albums on vinyl of all sorts of artists (Nils Lofgren, Labi Siffre, Chess Story, Rak Records etc). Their CDs usually featured the full double-album on a single disc, but the sound was only ever ok, rather than great. Well I'm glad to say the sound quality here is fantastic. The material is licensed from Universal who have charge over the entire Chess label and although the liner notes don't advise who remastered what - they sound like the good work of Erick Labson who has handled vast swaths of the Chess catalogue to uniform praise. Veteran compiler Bob Fisher put the compilation together and the booklet features a 8-page appraisal by noted music writer and Blues discographer Neil Slaven.

As you can see from the dates above, a lot of these tracks are from the mid to late Sixties and even into the early Seventies - they're far more funky than you would credit - not just straight up R'n'B or Blues (like "Let Me Down Easy"). Highlights include the Stax Shaft funk of "Poor Man" and the gritty guitar and brass of "I Play Dirty". And while he wasn't as vocally blistering as Bobby Bland at his best, when James "Little Milton" Campbell was working a tune like say "More And More" which has a very Sixties Them feel to it - he came damn close - it's hard-hitting and impressive stuff (lyrics above).

I'm sure there's a Hip-O Select 4 or 5CD mini box set in the future pipeline to compliment their Little Walter, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry sets, but until then, this will do nicely.

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