The latest release by Jean-Jacques Milteau is
the result of an unusual approach for a French artist : JJ went
to the United States to record this album with the legendary
musicians of the "Royal Studio" in Memphis, who have
been instrumental in many Soul and Rhythm and Blues hit singles
since the 60s. The album has been named after this musical journey
JJM left for Memphis looking for a specific sound.
Not the raucous bluesy sound of the early Wolf records, but
rather the "soul" sound of Booket T, Issac Hayes and
the famous Memphis Horns. And that is probably the single most
interesting aspect of this album : there is a coherence of sound,
an atmosphere, that makes it unlike anything JJM has released
in the past.
Of course, the participation of three great blues/soul
artists, namely Little Milton, Mighty Mo Rodgers and Mighty
Sam McClain is certainly part of the reason why this album works
so well. Each one of them walked into the studio with an original
song and a cover they had chosen. Interestingly enough, the
originals are very bluesy, and the covers very soul-y... These
three guys have great vocals (and great guitar in the case of
Little Milton) and, while their singing styles are every different,
they all fit extremely well within the musical context of the
And what about the harp ? Well, let's say that
those who may have thought in the past that JJ was a harp players'
harp player should be surprised by this latest release : the
harmonica is still the main solo instrument of the record, since
it's present on all cuts, but JJ's playing is neither demonstrative
nor technical : it blends with the whole sound, and in particular
plays with and around the horn arrangements with ease and fluidity.
The long-term evolution of Milteau's playing in the last few
years is clearly apparent in this album which seems to me like
the result of a deep search for sound : simple phrases, melodic
improvisations and a tone that has such a rich texture... If
I didn't fear being accused of blasphemy, I'd say that Milteau
is going down the Miles road...
Some tracks, of course, stand out more than others
: the originals of Little Milton ("Things are gonna change")
and Sam McClain ("At last, on time") in particular
should please blues fans, while the sometimes funky ("TMCP"),
sometimes soul instrumentals (like the superb "Master Lester")
should please R&B fans.
Ultimately, this album will appeal to music fans
more than it will seduce fans of instrumental prowess (not that
the two are necessarily opposed !). As a collaborator of Planet
Harmonica recently told me, "you can lend it to a friend
without telling him it's harp" ! A very accurate description,
and, in my opinion, part of the reason why this is the best
album JJM has released in a long time...