Jean-Jacques Milteau – Key to The Highway (ENG review)

Street date March 29th 2024
Jean-Jacques Milteau

I wouldn’t presume to retell the entire story of this harmonica player who, throughout his career, ventured from blues to sharing the stage with jazz or pop artists over the decades (Gil Scott-Heron, Eddy Mitchell, Barbara, Little Milton, etc.). This album is particularly interesting in terms of arrangements, with top-notch production and judiciously chosen contributors, in my opinion. Here, we find fascinating artists giving their best. Brace yourselves, as you’ll hear Mike Andersen, Harrison Kennedy, Carlton Moody, Michael Robinson under the direction of keyboardist Johan Dalgaard. With his talented accomplices, Jean-Jacques Milteau rides on a soundtrack inspired by the Blues and all the music from the southern USA that he’s been programming for about twenty years on his show “Bon Temps Rouler”.
“My whole life has been determined by the purchase of a small harmonica when I was fifteen. For me, it was truly The Key to the Highway… Whether it’s the 1958 version by Little Walter, Clapton and Duane Allman’s in 1970, or the one wrongly considered as the original by Big Bill Broonzy and Jazz Gillum, Key To The Highway is undoubtedly considered a classic. All blues studies agree that lyrics often should be taken literally, but here we have the evidence: the common aspiration of teenagers of all times to break free from their condition and find a personal and rewarding path. I never believed the harmonica would serve such a purpose. I always considered it more of a seasoning, flavorful indeed, but a bit too typical to be a main dish! Yet, I must honestly admit that everyone who has shaped my life, I met them through the little Marine Band 1896/20: The Key to the Highway”…
Let’s pause for a moment on the arrangements and production of this album, which benefits from very high-quality mixing. The interest of bringing together on the same album white and black American blues artists highlights, among other things, Harrison Kennedy’s magnificent voice. The rough arrangements highlighting the harmonica are fully justified on such a project, especially since, through Milteau’s brilliant arrangements, his instrument serves only to bring even more beauty to the voices on this album.
The repertoire is very diverse. A few examples: Bob Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm” and Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” sung by Mike Andersen, Tony Joe White’s “Rainy Night In Georgia” and John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery” embodied by Carlton Moody, Joe Tex’s “Chains of Fools” by Harrison Kennedy, Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With” by Michael Robinson. Two original tracks: “Takin’ It Back” delivered by its author-composer, the excellent Harrison Kennedy, a long-time collaborator of Milteau, and the composition by Michael Robinson and Johan Dalgaard “New Key To The Highway”. This last song is a tribute to the harmonica player Jazz Gillum, one of Milteau’s influences. The now classic Blues track, “Key To The Highway”, was recorded by pianist Charles Segar in late February 1940 for Vocalion. Two months later, Jazz Gillum, accompanied by Big Bill Broonzy, recorded it again for Bluebird with a slightly modified melody. In 1941, Big Bill gave his own version for Okeh with Jazz Gillum blowing his harmonica, the only time he recorded as an accompanist. Let’s not forget to mention the musicians who contribute to the success of this record, in addition to those mentioned earlier: double bassist Laurent Verneray, percussionist David Donatien, and drummers Raphael Chassin and Toma Milteau.
Despite its surface eclecticism, this record has great unity: Jean-Jacques Milteau’s superb playing. It’s worth listening to again and again.

Article écrit à quatre mains par Thierry De Clemensat (USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine, Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News) et Gilbert Guyonnet (ABS Magazine)

PARIS-MOVE, February 26th 2024