Lil’ Red Records LLR03
12 songs – 47 minutes
Splitting their time between Ohio and France, Lil’ Red & The Rooster are an interesting duo who deliver a classy take on traditional, jazz infused blues in this collection, which was produced and recorded by Chicagoan Dave Specter.
The duo features Westerfield, Ohio, native Jennifer “Lil’ Red” Milligan on washboard and vocals. She’s a multi-talented artist who’s been performing since childhood with careers in theater and choreography as well as music. At 22, she traveled the national as a lead artists in a national touring company presentation of Hair.
Influenced heavily by Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Dinah Washington, she’s also taught jazz vocalization under the direction of the late Michelle Horsefield, who worked with Fats Waller, Eddie Condon and Cliff Jackson, and her blues training has come under the tutelage of both Diunna Greenleaf and Teeny Tucker.
This is Lil’ Red & The Rooster’s second CD, a follow up to 2013’s Out Of The Coop. Two years after that release, they represented the Columbus Blues Alliance at the International Blues Challenge and also were finalists in a French competition.
Her partner in this venture is classically trained guitarist Pascal Fouquet. Raised on a farm in France’s Normandy region, he plays traditional, baritone and banjo axes. His background includes three CDs with in the early 2000s with the famed The Hoodoomen, with whom Lil’ Red also recorded, and several more with band leader Drew Davies, one of the top saxophonists in Britain. A 40-year veteran of the music business, Fouquet won back-to-back honors as French blues guitarist of the year.
Recorded in Chicago at Blaise Barton’s JoyRide Studio, all of the tunes on Soul Burnin’ were written by the duo in full-band arrangement aided by boogie keyboard player Ricky Nye, who splits his time between his native Cincinnati and Paris, and the French rhythm section of drummer Denis Agenet and upright bassist Abdell “B. Bop” Bouyousfi. They’re augmented by Specter, who contributes guitar on three tracks, as well as vocalists Shaun Booker, Caroline Rau and Jeff Morrow.
Lil’ Red channels blues singers of the ‘30s and ‘40s as she opens “Soul Burnin’ Wrong,” a highly topical original in today’s world that speaks out against rape, senseless murder of innocent blacks and more acapella as she preaches for cross-cultural love and understanding. She’s a powerful, expressive alto. Fouquet joins in guitar after the first few bars before the rhythm section starts swinging to join the action. Nye takes you to church with a brief organ solo, and Pascal’s touch on the strings is light and breezy throughout.
The subject lightens for the Delta and slide flavored “Catch That Train,” a tribute to chance meetings on the rails that lead to lasting friendships, while “Listen” offers up some sound advice: Fighting your obstacles doesn’t always work; often it’s best to separate yourself from the action and pay attention to what’s truly going on. Next up, “Narcissistic Blues” features Specter and Nye as it slams self-involved people with a true Chicago mid-tempo shuffle feel. Fouquet stretches out on the six-string for the pleasing instrumental “Coq A Doodlin’” next, giving the rhythm section space to shine, while “Black Cat Fever” – a tune that would have fit comfortably in a high-society saloon in the ‘50s — puts an interesting spin on being doomed after biting the apple and letting the serpent win.
“Respect Your Sisters” delivers a funky warning to lady friends who talk behind Lil’ Red’s back before the jazzy “TicToc” sings about a man who’s late in arriving for a date with Lil’ Red discovering much too late that he’d simply fallen asleep at home. The theme continues with “Hey Mister Mister,” who’s bringing the lady down, before the instrumental guitar bonanza “Big Boy Boogie,” “Chicken Scratch,” which describes Lil’ Red’s first meeting in France with Pascal with a Howlin’ Wolf tune playing in the background, and the ballad “Occupy My Mind” bring the action to a close.
Relaxed and sweet throughout, Soul Burnin’ is totally enjoyable blues with a cabaret jazz feel. Available through Amazon, this one’s for you if you’re adventurous. It’s original and different.