Album review: FRANKIE MILLER – Once In A Blue Moon, High Life and The Rock (remasters with bonus tracks)

Rock Candy Records [release date 7.05.21]

Glasgow singer/songwriter/actor, Frankie Miller always seemed to have more success when other people sang the stuff he had written. And no matter the critical acclaim his own releases enjoyed, reviews always seemed to end with “…but the album was not a commercial success”.

Enterprising UK label, Rock Candy Records, now give us a remastered opportunity to re-appraise Miller’s first 3 albums, orginally released in the seventies, adorned with bonus tracks.

Once In A Blue Moon‘s main claim to fame was the song ‘I Can’t Change It’, written by Miller when he was just a boy, later recorded by one of his musical heroes, Ray Charles.

Public interest was limited. The UK music scene was just getting out from under the dominance of psychedelia, reggae and folk rock. No real market had yet been established for soulful, grainy blues rock. And this album is all of that, in spades.

There is nothing calculated about Miller’s songs. They come from the heart, they come from his roots. Many of them take their time – like ‘It’s All Over’ and ‘In No Resistance’ – but don’t waste any time. ‘You Don’t Need To Laugh’ and ‘After All’ are weighted with anguish and anger, heartache and regret. Emotionally intoned, elemental songs.

No surprise he picks the fiercely introspective Dylan song, ‘Tom Thumb Blues’ and Willie Dixon’s explosive ‘I’m Ready’ as his chosen covers.

High Life followed in 1974. The debut had been recorded in London by Brinsley Schwarz manager, Dave Robinson. Huge leap then to Atlanta, Georgia and the legendary Allen Touissaint, who co-wrote the material with Miller, and produced the album. Toussaint produced for many, including Solomon Burke, Willy DeVille and Robert Palmer.

Together, they wrote a great batch of songs. ‘Brickyard Blues’, ‘With You In Mind’ and ‘Falling In Love Again’ (if ever a song formed the template for accessible seventies blues rock it’s this one) are among the best Miller ever wrote/recorded.

Gritty, granular blues rock, carrying a very personal emotional weight. Disappointingly, the production was a touch too polished for Miller’s tastes. He wanted it raw and raucous, he wanted ragged edges… he wanted it to reflect his past and his state of mind.

Again, despite the critical acclaim, it failed at the box office.

As per frustratingly usual, several of the songs on High Life became big for other artists. Betty Wright and Three Dog Night reaped the benefit in the US charts.

1975 and The Rock. Anyone plugged into the history of Miller’s music could see that he was truly beginning to give it some solid shape and form, an easily identifiable Miller sound.

His abortive attempt to put a band together with Andy (Free) Fraser at least gave life to two outstanding rock songs. The expertly crafted ‘A Fool In Love’ and ‘I Know Why The Sun Don’t Shine’ light up this album like a searchlight on a dark night. One blasts into rock’n'roll orbit thanks to the Memphis Horns, the other broods on a satisfyingly mournful blues lament, vividly marrying narrative to the music, again demonstrating Miller’s often underrated compositional skills.

The album also gave birth to what would eventually be one of Miller’s best known songs. ‘Aint Got No Money’ is a blazing, brass heavy barroom stomp that seemed to work its way into every corner of FM Radio (but no further). It would later be covered by many Miller admirers, principally Bob Seger and Chris Farlowe.

Each of these 3 remasters has been beefed up with bonus tracks. A dozen or more live versions, special edits and previously unreleased tracks are spread across the 3 CDs, each providing additional proof of Miller’s remarkable yet under-appreciated talent.  ****

Review by Brian McGowan

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