June and Jean Millington
Play Like a Girl
Thirty-some years ago, sisters June and Jean Millington were breaking new ground with Fanny, one of the first hard-rocking, self-contained “all-girl” rock and roll bands (with a band name cheekily supplied by George Harrison). Rounded out by keyboardist Nickey Barclay and drummer Alice de Buhr, Fanny had a Top 40 hit with the innuendo-laden “Charity Ball” in 1971; put their mark on some righteous covers including Cream’s “Badge,” Stephen Stills’ “Special Care,” and a particularly tough take on the Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog”; appeared on the era’s late-night TV rock concerts; got banned from playing at the London Palladium because they were deemed “too sexy”; and, oh yeah, put out five major label albums produced by the likes of uber-producers Richard Perry and Todd Rundgren.
But bands break up, and Fanny did by the mid-1970s. Barclay played in Joe Cocker’s band for a bit, and de Buhr moved into the promotion end of the music biz, while the Millingtons separately did the singer-songwriter thing in the seventies and eighties. And as they grew older, they decided to help mentor, teach, and support the younger generation of female musicians. June cofounded the nonprofit Institute for the Musical Arts and both sisters work with the institute’s Rock Camp for Girls.
In that light, the Millingtons kick their album off with the inspirational lesson of “Play Like a Girl,” singing “If they tell you you can’t do it, you just turn it up and play like a girl,” over an infectious 1950s-style Chuck Berry rhythm. Then they turn it around and address another generation in “I Love Your Hair, (even though its “turning white all on it’s own)”, a jumping and joyous song about growing old and gray. “Let Love Linger” has a decidedly soulful vibe and features some very funky bass playing. Some of the songs, like “Terrible Things,” offer cautionary tales to their younger counterparts, and a few of the songs were both written by girls from the rock camps and feature their singing.
There are advantages in this do-it-yourself era when anyone can put out their own album without having to jump through hoops for the record companies, but your own disk still has to compete against the big boys, and that’s where Play Like a Girl falls off; it sounds sparse and unfinished. There are worthy songs here, but the arrangements are just way too stark, often seeming like early demos rather than finished tracks. With just June on guitar, Jean on bass, and her son Lee Madeloni on drums, there’s not enough going on. The sisters need to fill out their sound a lot more; the songs deserve it.
—Jeff Lindholm (Montpelier, VT)