MILLIE JACKSON-STILL CAUGHT UP.

MILLIE JACKSON-STILL CAUGHT UP.

I’ve always thought that there’s nothing worse than not hearing how a story ends. That’s how I felt after I reviewed Millie Jackson’s 1974 album Caught Up, which launched her musical career. The album is like a musical soap opera, with side one featuring Millie playing the role of “the other woman,” and on side two she assumes the role of a wife whose husband has cheated on her. When the album finished, there seemed no conclusion, no real ending. It was one of these cliffhangers where you wondered what happened? Did he husband leave her, or did they stay together, and if so, what became of them? During Caught Up, Millie plays both roles brilliantly, bringing them to life with a hugely realistic portrayal, resulting in critical acclaim for the album. Not only did the album reach twenty-one in the US Billboard 200 and number four in the US R&B Charts, but it featured three successful singles, If (Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right, The Rap and I’m Through Trying To Prove I Love You. A year later, in June 1975, Millie decided to bring the story to its conclusion, on her next album Still Caught Up.

When Still Caught Up was released, it failed to match the huge commercial success of Caught Up, reaching just number 112 in the US Billboard 200 and number twenty-seven in the US R&B Charts. Unlike Caught Up, Still Caught Up neither garnered the critical acclaim of its predecessor, nor spawned any successful singles. Only the Philip Mitchell penned Leftovers charted, reaching just eighty-seven in the US R&B Charts. However, although not as successful as its predecessor, Still Caught Up allowed people to hear how Millie’s ill-fated love triangle ended.

Still Caught Up opens with Making the Best of A Bad Situation, which opens with a short monologue, Millie’s ex-husband knocking her door, reminding her its their anniversary. From there, Millie launches into the vocal, sounding weary and browbeaten, against a backdrop of lush strings, piano, rhythm section and guitars. The tempo is slow, the arrangement full of sadness and drama, reflecting how Minnie feels. As the arrangement sweeps along, there’s a dramatic sound and feel to the arrangement, perfect for Minnie to get across how she misses her husband, and although free, is at a loss without him to share her life. Later the strings combine with chiming guitars, piano and soaring backing vocalists brilliantly. When this is combined with the emotion and sadness of Minnie’s vocal, it’s compelling and quite brilliant combination.

As Making the Best of A Bad Situation closes, it quickly segues into The Memory of A Wife, a very different sounding track, which starts with another short monologue, set against a booming, drama drenched arrangement punctuated by the rhythm section. Rasping horns, swirling strings, guitars and a piano combine to produce a punch, melodramatic almost overblown arrangement, on top of which sits Millie’s angry, snarling vocal. Midway through the track, calmness descends, the arrangement settling down, just twinkling keyboards, rhythm section and slow strings accompanying Millie’s monologue. It’s almost a warning shot fired across the bows of her husbands new lady, warning her about the pitfalls of their relationship. She also dispenses marital advice, on how to spot a straying husband, and the pitfalls of being the “other woman.” This she does against a meandering arrangement, from which rasping horns occasionally escape. After about ninety seconds, the monologue enters, and the song heads it’s dramatic conclusion, a melange of blazing horns, piano, rhythm section and guitars, with Minnie almost roaring with a mixture of anger and frustration. Overall, this series of two monologues and music works well, and while maybe not of the standard of music on Caught Up, is still an emotional roller coaster of a journey into cheating, mistreating relationships.

An acoustic guitar and rhythm section and electric guitar accompany Millie’s monologue as Tell Her It’s Over begins. Quickly, Millie instructs her ex-husband to tell his new girlfriend to tell her it’s over. As Millie’s vocal progresses, her voice grows both in strength and emotion, while short, sharp bursts of backing vocalists accompany her, guitars chime and soar, combining with keyboards and the rhythm section. Later, while horns rasp, and an organ wails, Minnie’s vocal dominates the track, displaying confidence and just a touch of aggression, as she lets her husband know just who is in charge. By now it seems, Millie has gained the upper hand in the relationship, during this emotionally charged track, but how long will this last?

Do What Makes You Satisfied has a beautiful introduction with chiming guitars and slow sweeping strings combining with a piano and the rhythm section. It’s such a beautiful combination that you wish it would go on for much longer. However, it’s interrupted by a ballsy, confident vocal from Millie. Behind her, hugely soulful backing vocalists accompany her, while a piano, slow, moody bass and strings bathed in sadness are key to the arrangement’s success. Meanwhile, horns rasp and guitars chime as Millie tells her husband to do what makes him satisfied, and if that means leaving her, so be it. She knows that it won’t last, because his new lover, isn’t the faithful kind, and that will hurt his ego. As Millie sings this, it’s with a mixture of bravado and resignation. There’s a weariness in her voice, as if she’s worried, that she might be wrong, and he won’t come back. It’s such a good portrayal of this role that makes this one of the album’s best tracks, that and an outstanding arrangement.

After the false bravado of the previous track, it’s a much more confident Millie that opens You Can’t Stand the Thought of Another Me as it bursts into life. The tempo is quicker with the rhythm section, piano, wah-wah guitars, lazing guitars and cooing backing vocalists accompanying a defiant Millie. She sings that her husband can’t stand the thought of another man now loving her. Later, the track gets even better when strings swoop in, accompanying the punchy rhythm section and braying horns adding to the emotion, drama and defiance of what’s a brilliant track.

Just when it seems Millie seems to have the upper hand in the situation, things take a turn for the worse on Leftovers, when Millie’s new man announces he’s leaving, going back to his wife. He’s not for changing his mind, and Millie reveals that she knows that he’s been cheating on her with his wife. This monologue between Millie and her lover is set against a backdrop of keyboards, rhythm section, chiming guitars and blazing horns. Then when you think things can’t get any worse for Millie, the doorbell rings and whose their but her lover’s wife. You get the feeling that this isn’t going to end well. In the end, Millie throws everyone out, and her vocal begins, as she asks her love rival how she could stand being second best to her. By now Millie’s vocal is powerful, full of emotion and anger. Behind her, rasping, blazing horns punctuate the sound, while sweeping strings, keyboards and chiming guitars combine beautifully. What makes this such a great sounding track is a much fuller and bigger arrangement which matches the dynamic, energetic vocal from Millie.

By the closing track of Still Caught Up, you’re on tender-hooks, desperate to hear how this love triangle works out. However, in the back of your mind is the feeling that this isn’t going to end well. You feel something bad is round the corner as I Still Love You (You Still Love Me) opens. That’s what happens, as Millie’s husband has left her, and it seems she’s slowly unravelling. After the monologue, the track opens out, and a lovely sad arrangement unfolds. Strings are at its heart, while the rhythm section, guitars and keyboards combine to accompany Millie, who now is sad, lonely and lost. Backing vocalists accompany her, as a flute floats high above the arrangement. While the arrangement meanders along, you fear a twist in the tale, and that all isn’t well with Millie. Her voice is full of sadness and regret, with almost a sense of grief in her voice caused by the loss of her husband. Towards the end of the track, Millie unravels, becoming unstable, becoming mentally ill, which is portrayed all too graphically in the track, and not in the best taste. For me, this slightly takes the edge of the track. A much more sympathetic portrayal of the situation would’ve been a much more satisfactory conclusion to what was, up until then, an excellent track. This ending was in poor taste, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and spoiled the ending of what was a compelling and intriguing love triangle.

Although Still Caught Up didn’t match the commercial success of its predecessor Caught Up, it’s still a really good album that’s well worth hearing. While the music may not match the standard of that found on Caught Up, it’s a compelling and intriguing piece of music. The drama being played out in front of you is very realistic, so much so that you end up feeling sorry for the characters and taking sides in the various scenarios. Of the seven songs on Still Caught Up, there aren’t any poor tracks on it. Each are of a good standard, and the combination of monologues and music works well, During the album, we meet a variety of “Millie’s,” from the heartbroken to defiant and angry, a whole gambit of human emotions are portrayed by Millie Jackson. She plays each character perfectly, from the wronged woman, to the defiant newly in love, and ultimately, to a woman unravelling emotionally. Each of these characters are played against some excellent arrangements which sympathetically reflect the emotions and drama Millie is portraying. My only gripe is how the album ended. Although the music on  I Still Love You (You Still Love Me) is quite brilliant and a fitting ending to the scenario, the unravelling of Millie could’ve been handled in a much more sympathetic and tasteful way. However, apart from that Still Caught Up, Like its predecessor Caught Up, is a totally compelling, almost spellbinding piece of music, which plays out the love triangle that Millie has been caught up in. If you’ve never heard either Caught Up and Still Caught Up, then I recommend you do. Both albums are available on one disc on Hip-O Records, which means you can hear the drama, emotion and turmoil of this three way love affair from beginning to end. Standout Tracks: Making the Best of A Bad Situation, Do What Makes You Satisfied, You Can’t Stand the Thought of Another Me and Leftovers. 

MILLIE JACKSON-STILL CAUGHT UP.

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