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Little Milton's talent buried under heavy production

Back to Back
Back to Back
By Little Milton

Malaco Records: 1988

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This review first appeared in the July/August 1989 issue of Living Blues magazine.

Little Milton Campbell is a man of stupendous talent, a rich voice combined with monstrous chops on guitar. But his latest Malaco release, "Back to Back," takes advantage of little of that prodigous talent, instead burying it beneath an overload of orchestrations and syrrupy arrangements.

The first song, "I Was Tryin' Not to Break Down," by Malaco house songwriter George Jackson, is, unfortunately, indicative of most of the album.

A thin rewrite of Jackson's "Now that You've Cheated" from Johnnie Taylor's Malaco release "In Control"), "I Was Tring' Not to Break Down" is a Top-40-styled ballad, with lush arrangements that contrast with Milton's rough vocal style.

This trend continues on "Caught in the Act (of Gettin' It On)" before we get a dose of Milton's true talent on the blues, "You Can't Trust Your Neighbor." Here, Milton not only gets to turn loose his voice from the restrictions of the pop format, but he gets to play some guitar as well – showing off his spare, yet fulfilling sound. The horn arrangement is likewise tasty, punctuating Milton's lyrics at just the right moment.

The best guitar passages on the album are contained on "Penitentiary Blues." And impassioned intro on guitar indicates that Milton's talent is undimmed, just under-utilized.

Milton seems so much more at home when letting loose on the blues, as opposed to working with ballads, that one was to wonder why the producers just didn't let the man play.

But after this two-song visit to the blues, "Too Much Heaven Last Night" returns to the pop formula so prevalent on this album. Better than the other ballads, at least this song has some tight horn charts rather than the treacle arrangements found elsewhere.

"It's Hard to Explain" is the purest blues on the album, with Milton's typically economical statements on guitar.

The last foray into the blues comes with "I Don't Believe in Ghosts." However, this song so closely resembles "Too Many Dirty Dishes," recorded by Albert Collins on "Cold Snap," that it seems one must be a rewrite of the other.

Regardless, Milton's performance of this humrous look at infidelity contains some superb guitar playing and gritty vocals – although it is weakened by a poor fade-out to end the song.

After this, it's all ballads and pop material. The album ends miserably with "The Wind Beneath My Wings," a horrible ballad by former Eagle Don Henley. The velvety arrangement is full of bells and harps – the upright variety – and multi-leveled harmonies that are as far removed from Milton's blues as Elvis Presley was from jazz. In fact, this last song is closer to Whitney Houston, and would be more at home serving as a theme to a teen-aged love interest movie.

All in all, Little Milton's latest outing is disappointing, due in most part to the heavy-handed production and poor choice of material.