Mark One Records
11 songs – 43 minutes
Some albums carry an imprimatur before one actually hears the music. Take MVP, for example, the debut album from The Milligan Vaughan Project. Any band with ex-Storyville singer and front man, Malford Milligan, and Royal Southern Brotherhood guitarist (and scion of the Vaughan clan), Tyrone Vaughan, is going to be a fascinating prospect. Add in all-star backing from Chris Maresh and Jeff Hayes on bass; Brannen Temple and Kenneth Furr on drums; Michael Ramos and Jay D. Stiles on keyboards; David Grissom and Jorge Castillo on guitars; and Mike Cross on backing vocals, and things look even more enticing. And the 11 songs on MVP are a smart mix of originals with a couple of classic covers and some inspired lesser-known choices. Even the photos on the album cover depict Milligan and Vaughan looking impossibly cool.
It is perhaps surprising, therefore, that when the music does kick off, it sounds closer to the heavy blues-rock of AC/DC or early Whitesnake than something that should be reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine. The opening track, “Soul Satisfaction”, was written by David Grissom and Davey Knowles, but with its over-driven guitars, stop-start verse riff, and keyboard waves, it would not have sounded out of place being played by Dokken on MTV in 1985. “Dangerous Eyes”, which follows, is another riff-based heavy rock song reflecting an ‘80s influence, although it does contain some fine slide guitar. By the time of the pop-rock of Vaughan’s “Little Bit Of Heaven”, it is clear that MVP is not a blues album.
There are some heavy blues on the album in the shuffle of the Milligan/Vaughan original “Driving You” (with a cool ascending guitar riff on the bridge), the stuttering grind of “Devil’s Breath” and Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”, but even then each track is played with such muscularity and assertive power that any blues present can only be viewed through a rock prism.
There is plenty of good music to enjoy on the MVP. The funky workout “Compared To What” (originally popularised by Les McCann in 1969) is given a fresh breath of life as its original anti-Vietnam war message is applied to the modern day. The Rev. James Cleveland’s wonderful gospel song “Two Wings” is played with just Vaughan’s strummed acoustic guitar backing Milligan’s soaring voice. The gentle, Clapton-esque ballad “Here I Am” also features a superb vocal from Milligan. Indeed, Milligan sings well throughout in his endearingly rough, rasping vocal style and Vaughan’s guitar stylings reflect the taste and restraint often found in the best Texas players. The album is also expertly produced by Grissom and Omar Vallejo.
Two bonus live tracks close out the album, the Grissom-penned “What Passes For Love” (also previously recorded by John Mayall) and the Freddie King classic, “Palace Of The King”. Unfortunately, the poor recording quality does little to convey the dynamism or potential of the band in a live setting.
If you are looking for a modern blues album, then MVP is not what you are looking for. If, however, you enjoy hard-hitting, guitar-led, classic blues-rock that sits firmly at the rock end of the blues-rock spectrum, then this album is definitely worth investigating.