Mills is preparing for her annual European excursion. Starting in August and running into early November, she’ll play a series of dates in the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. She’s been doing this for years, gradually building a network of friends, fans and supporters drawn in by her blend of blues, gospel and soul.
But the real news is the album she’s on the verge of releasing. After her mother’s death, Mills found a tattered old Dollar General Store composition book among her belongings. She was amazed to find that her mother had painstakingly written down the lyrics to some of her favorite songs in the early ’70s. Mills think it was a kind of therapy: a struggling single mom taking comfort in poetry about “heartbreak and longing and love.”
“I had no idea this existed,” Mills says. She told the story to others, and “a friend in Europe encouraged me to think about recording them.”
That suggestion turned into a compulsion, particularly when she realized that the book contained one composition, “A Song of Love,” written by her mother. Mills lined up some all-star help, picked out an assortment of songs from the book, and went into the studio. Grammy winner Trina Shoemaker is producing the project; musicians included guitarist Spencer Bohren, fiddler Gram Rea of The Mulligan Brothers, keyboardist Emily Gimble, drummer Brian Brignac and trumpeter Mark Levron.
The songs include some well-known classics and some lesser-known gems: Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin,” Elvis Presley’s “It’s a Matter of Time,” Three Dog Night’s “Never Been to Spain” (the song was written by Hoyt Axton, and Mills says her take is influence by Ronnie Sessions’ version), Loretta Lynn’s “Here I Am Again,” Donna Fargo’s “The Awareness of Nothing,” and Jacky Ward’s “Big Blue Diamonds.”
The album is titled “Mama’s Juke Book.” In her Kickstarter campaign to fund its release and distribution, Mills writes, “The songs are not note-for-note recreations of the originals; even though it’s a style I can sing, I am by no means a country singer. Instead, I’ve transformed these songs, taking them out of the country music genre and recasting them in a way that is authentic to me as a singer by bringing in elements of black gospel, soul, blues and jazz that make up my sound.”
Speaking of that Kickstarter drive: It ends the morning of Friday, July 22; as of Tuesday it was almost home, with $19,000 pledged toward a goal of $22,000. Full information can be found at www.kickstarter.com.
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