Review: Jody Miller – Complete Epic Hits (Real Gone, 2011)
Jody Miller’s recording catalog is often abbreviated to her first hit, the Grammy-winning “Queen of the House,” and though its novelty answer to Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” may get the most spins on nostalgia radio, it’s hardly representative of her lengthy hit-making career. Her personal appearances on teen shows Hollywood-A-Go-Go and Shindig positioned her for pop success, but her follow-up singles found only middling results and failed to cross back over to the country chart. She had only one other hit for Capitol (the terrific protest song “Home of the Brave”) before moving to Epic, where Billy Sherrill was ready to leverage her pop abilities in countrypolitan arrangements.
With a zippy horn chart, fast-shuffling drums and tightly arranged choral backing, Miller’s Epic debut “Look at Mine” just missed the country Top 20. Ironically, the chorus sounds just like the country-rock Linda Ronstadt was beginning to record at Miller’s previous label, Capitol. Her next single, “If You Think I Love You” is a torchy ballad in the Patsy Cline vein, with crying steel and cooing background singers giving it a decided Nashville edge. Her catalog features a generous helping of girl group songs, including “He’s So Fine,” “Be My Baby” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” She also covered Barbara Lewis’ “Baby I’m Yours,” Phil Spector’s “To Know Him is to Love Him,” the Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman,” all with polite, mainstream arrangements that kept country touches on their edges.
Sherrill was a canny producer who crafted the arrangements to highlight his singers. He adds a church-style chorus behind the Johnny Paycheck duet “Let’s All Go Down to the River,” drops the instruments for the sotto voce passages of “There’s a Party Going On” and crafts a soulful backing for the emotional monologues in “Don’t Take it Away.” Real Gone’s collection pulls together all twenty-five of Miller’s Epic A-sides (all stereo except “Soft Lights and Slow Sexy Music,” “(I Wanna) Love My Life Way” and “Kiss Away,” which were accidentally in mono on the first run of the CDs), concluding with the singer’s farewell to the charts with an excellent 1979 cover of Robin McNamara’s “Lay a Little Lovin’ on Me.” At that point Miller retired to raise a family, leaving behind this decade-long legacy of hit-making. The CD and eight-page booklet (with liner notes by Bill Dahl) are delivered in a two-panel cardboard folder.