It’s not quite accurate to call Frankie Miller the unsung hero of British rock n’ soul because he had more than just a taste of mainstream recognition, while the crafts-manlike songwriter in him garnered comparable commercial success via movies and television. Yet the emotional undercurrent in the music included in …That’s Who! makes the case he was worthy of more widespread acknowledgement than the compilation’s title wryly references.
A four CD set comprised of all of Miller’s Chrysalis recordings would be welcome enough, but considering the package also contains the unreleased mix of the Allen Toussaint produced High Life makes it invaluable for the fan of the man as well as any student of modern soul music (as do the inclusion of two single heretofore unavailable on CD “Loving You Is Sweeter than ever” and “I’m Old Enough”). Released without consultation with either artist or producer, the label’s version shuffles all the same tracks, with the exception of “I’m Falling In Love Again,” and takes a cue from Toussaint’s effort at continuity: one-minute intro and outro of the title track and “With You In Mind” bookend the dozen cuts.
Miller’s raspy tenor resides somewhere between Joe Cocker’s tortured wail and the delicate blues phrasing of Paul Rodgers delicacy and that voice is the focal point of the New Orleans figurehead’s arrangements. Spacious keyboard-dominated charts provide a foundation for horns that, like the vocals, run the gamut from the ebullient likes of “Play Something Sweet (Brickyard Blues)” to the devotional incantation called “With You in Mind.” Though the sound quality is comparable, it’s arguable which mix is preferable, but Allen Toussaint’s sequencing radiates more logic.
The preceding album, Once in A Blue Moon, established Frankie Miller’s roots in the blues by dint of Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready” as well his aspirations to high standards of original songwriting through the inclusion of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” Those two covers appear in the midst of self-composed likes of “You Don’t Need to Laugh,” where’s he’s backed by pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz (who would, in slightly different form, become Graham Parker’s great band The Rumour).
Frankie Miller’s later albums found him and his producer of the time taking a progressively more polished (a/k/a straight hard rock) approach to his records. Produced in California, The Rock was permeated with an earthy angst not all that dissimilar to its predecessor, all the more laudable considering it is the sole record comprised wholly of self-composed material; future albums would include some choice covers, such as John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Bob Marley’s “Is It Love?,” as well as composing collaborations with the likes of guitar hero Robin Trower and Free bassist Andy Fraser.
Through it all, Miller’s compromises for accessibility never undermined his down-to-earth approach to R & B sourced rock and roll. And his stalwart yet likable workingman’s persona, configured on the basis of the delivery as well as the sentiment of “Be Good to Yourself,” from 1977’s Full House, only invites more admiration.
Stricken by a brain hemorrhage in 1994, Frankie Miller arose from a five month coma to begin a rehabilitation process that continues to this day. The collection of previously recorded material released in 2006, Long Way Home, is as worth having as any of the Capitol LPs he recorded after he left Chrysalis, but you hear early evidence of that same unrelenting sense of determination flow through the songs that fill …That’s Who!