Malted Milk & Toni Green
Thursday 7th of July 2016
MILK & GREEN
What can the soul singer Toni Green and the soul-blues group Malted Milk have in common ? The answer is simple : Milk & Green is one of the best kept secrets in today’s rhythm & blues scene. By uniting their strengths in recording what could become one of the most popular albums in the last ten years, you can bet on this double secret not remaining so for long.
As a grass-roots Memphis girl where she performed for a long time around the great Isaac Hayes, Toni Green had a very early start in the music industry : « My father was a musician and everybody used to come and practice at our house. The Bar-Kays, the Mad Lads, all the local musicians. » After having learnt her ‘do, ray, mi’s’ as a member of the Imported Moods, a torrid vocal group just like her town adores, Toni joined legendary producer Willie Mitchell’s team, alongside Al Green, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. As Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns’ protégée, loyal to Marvell Thomas (Rufus’ son and Carla’s brother, two stars associated with the prestigious Stax label), she went on numerous tours with Luther Ingram and the Doobie Brothers before making a name for herself in the studios of New York. Very sought after backing vocalist thanks to her incredible harmony control, she had the pleasure of singing with Dennis Edwards, Betty Wright, Millie Jackson, Luther Vandross, the SOS Band, without forgetting the group Con Funk Shun.
When she returned to Memphis in the mid 1990’s, Toni decided to take a large step forward and recorded several albums in her name, with the benediction of Willie Mitchell ; due to the fact that, at this time, hip-hop wasn’t leaving much space for soul unfortunately her albums didn’t receive the success they deserved.
« All this will change », claimed Toni loud and clear, still surprised at having received, last year, a visit from producer Sebastian Danchin, who had come to propose to her to record with Malted Milk. « There was a ring at my door, it was this guy from Europe. We talked, he explained to me that he had wanted to record me for fifteen years, but that the opportunity had never arisen. My first reaction was to ask him why he had waited so long », jokes Toni. « I was waiting to find a group who could play ‘in the pocket’ », confirms Danchin using the expression consecrated in Memphis to describe those who ‘have the feeling’. « I almost called Toni a few years ago, while I was recording an album with Jean-Jacques Milteau in Willie Mitchell’s recording studio. But it would have been too frustrating to invite her to record just a couple of tracks. Until I came up with the idea of bringing Toni together with Malted Milk, Arnaud’s group. »
Arnaud Fradin, explosive guitar player and devastating falsetto voice, has definitely the experience required to take on this project, as he has toured the soul-blues scene from Tennessee to Florida, from Paris to Amsterdam via London. At the time when the young Nueva Onda Records label gave the green light on the project, Malted Milk was imposing its meaning of funk like an incomparable war machine, according to Toni : « The first time I heard them, I couldn’t believe my ears. The drummer, Richard, is incredible, I had never met anybody as regular as him since the time of Hi Records’ rhythmic section. A true metronome. Malted Milk’s brass is fantastic, Igor, the basse player, is incredibly creative in the recording studio, just like the keyboard player Tim, the latest arrival to the group, who I see a little like my son. »
After several months of intense preparation, Milk & Green met at the recoding studio in March 2014. The recording, made at the BoniSon studio in the countryside of Nantes, ran like a dream. On this supergroup’s agenda, a handful of covers borrowed from various well-known performer : Tommy Tate, one of the unrecognized geniuses of southern soul ; the diva R’n’B Mary J. Blige ; the soulman from Philadelphia Garnet Mimms ; without mentioning Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles, of which their glory remains associated with that of Hi Records. Arnaud Fradin, leader and singer of Malted Milk, explains : « We wanted to record a version of Ann Peebles’ ‘Slipped Tripped and Fell in Love’, precisely to celebrate the origins of our music. But it wasn’t possible to only perform covers, we wanted to put forward our specificity, and half of the album is made up of original compositions, written and arranged in the studio with Toni. »
The final result is a loyal reflection of 21st century soul music as Milk & Green wanted it to be presented. A bluesy and funky cocktail able to carry the message well over and above the retro frontiers, which are too often the normality in the soul scene. Judging by the enthusiastic reaction already felt by a bomb like ‘Just Call Me’ heard on the black radio networks in the USA, or even the triumphant welcome given to the group during the Jazz Victories in June, this album will leave no-one indifferent. As soon as this album came out in autumn, Milk & Green were invited to go on tour throughout Europe. Knowing that their concerts will multiply throughout 2015, lovers of contemporary soul will assist their torrid shows at their own risks.