Snapshots: rock goddess June Millington offers up twelve songs to remember.
June Millington, founding pillar of Fanny, the first all-woman group to land a major record deal, is a force of nature. She’s written about her life in the brilliant memoir Land Of A Thousand Bridges. Now, about to turn 74 and safely out the back of the dark ride that is breast cancer, she’s put together a tapestry of musical moments, from memory to rage to love to hope. From the “once upon a time” of the opener (“Make Me Happy,” written over forty years ago) to the passing of the torch to a younger generation (“Letter From The Heart” and “Wonder Woman”), Millington opens up and lets it out.
The range of styles on Snapshots is so diverse, I got whiplash in the best possible way. From classic high multi-layered harmony (no autotune here!) to early 80s echoes of David Bowie in “Grace,” to the hard-won and well-earned rage rap of “Eyes In The Back Of Our Heads” (more on this one shortly) to the pure Millington honesty and feminism of “Girls Don’t Dream (The Big Lie),” she jumps with an energy that, at six years her junior, I can only envy.
Seriously, the breadth is astounding. In the space of a dozen songs, she goes from traditional (and for too long the only thing open to female singers) feminine delicacy to a snarling bluesy growl that Stevie Ray Vaughn would have jumped right in on, for “Too Close To The Bone.”
Keep in mind that Millington went through a brutal battle with breast cancer: two surgeries, three rounds of chemo, and six weeks of radiation. I’ve been a fan of hers for close to half a century, and listening to her guitar work on Snapshots, my jaw dropped. June plays on every song, and not just guitar; she’s on drums on some tracks, as well as bass and keys. Earl Slick throws down with some kickass guitar and E-bow, playing off June. Lee John (Slick and bassist Jean Millington’s son) handles most of the bass and percussion. He’s been doing this a long time now; I reviewed his band, Kalyde, a decade ago. He’s very very good at it.
But the shining star and driving force of Snapshots is June Millington. She wields her electric guitars as she always did: with both precision and gut punch force. Millington shreds with the best, and better than most; check out what she’s doing with that axe on the vicious and delicious “Eagle To The Moon.” The heat and heartbreak of the George Floyd-inspired “Fire In The Street” just cooks.
There’s also some gorgeous acoustic picking on “Stars At Night,” her love song to her life partner Ann Hackler. Together, they’ve run the Institute for Musical Arts, opening up the world of music to young girls. For decades, IMA has made it possible for girls to shake off the idea that only men should play electric, that girls must look pretty and smile and pluck acoustic instruments and never ever be better than the men around them. Snapshots was recorded at IMA, and many alumni are back. What they’ve achieved is evident particularly on “Letter From The Heart,” a dark putting on notice from youth to age. “Un-Knowable” is the only song June doesn’t sing lead on, and the only song on which she plays no guitar (she’s on bass and keys). Evelyn Harris punches the vocal, and Janelle Burdell handled the drums.
There are no weak tracks here, no filler, but the two that frost me are “Girls Don’t Dream” and “The Ballad Of Fanny.” “Ballad” took me back to John Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” It’s a wry look back at how Fanny came together, all the obstacles (because, you know, they’re chicks, right?), the hard work, the power and everything else. Lennon was talking about what he and Yoko Ono went through because they were stepping outside the lines. “Ballad Of Fanny” is about something that really does cut close to the bone for me: the myriad ways in which the patriarchy will try to destroy or bury anything that challenges it.
“Girls Don’t Dream” breaks my heart and fills me with rage, because I remember it. I was there. I can and will bear witness. I remember the attitude, the constantly being told “girls don’t do that.” Hearing Fanny was what took me from acoustic to electric guitar. It just kills me, because we’re still fighting, still there, half a century later and more.
The sleeper here, though, may well be “Eyes In The Back Of Our Heads.” Millington is Filipina-American, and the horrifying surge in AAPI hate crimes, courtesy of Donald Trump, hits her where she lives. The only players on a hard rap that takes no prisoners are June and Lee. It’s sparse and dense at the same time, and needs to be played repeatedly to anyone out there who has drunk the AAPI hate juice. I’m not a fan of rap, but this one, I listened to four times back to back. And rap was the only medium possible for the kick in the groin this song really is.
Keep rockin’, Ms. Millington. Just keep singing and playing your truth.
Snapshots is available here with all the proceeds benefit IMA.