June and Jean Millington (2011) | Wikipedia
June (L) and Jean Millington (2001) | Wikipedia CC BY-SA 2.0 (cropped)

June Millington’s ‘Snapshots’ Captures the Former Fanny Artist Perfectly

Fanny is finally getting its due. Perhaps ‘Snapshots’ will help do the same for June Millington’s extensive and laudable work beyond her time with that band.

Snapshots
June Millington

Snapshots is the latest album from rock musician June Millington, her 13th since her recording debut in 1970 as a member of the rock/pop group Fanny. After four albums with them, 1977 saw the issue of Ladies On the Stage. It continued her collaboration with her sister, Fanny bassist and singer-songwriter Jean Millington. Ticket to Wonderful (1993), Melting Pot (2001), and Play Like a Girl (2011) were next for the siblings. They also formed a power trio with one-time Fanny member, percussionist, and, singer-songwriter Brie Darling. This resulted in a group and album titled Fanny Walked the Earth (2018). In addition to these collaborations, Millington has released four solo efforts. They are Heartsong (1981), Running (1983), One World, One Heart (1988), and the current Snapshots (2022).

Before looking at her new release, it is useful to contextualize her new effort. Here is June Millington and her career in a series of, well, “snapshots”.

Educator. In the mid-’80s Millington co-founded and has since co-run The Institute for the Musical Arts (IMA). IMA is a music school with live-in Rock ‘n’ Roll Girl’s Camps in the summers. The students learn instruments, songwriting, recording techniques, and performance. Perhaps most importantly, they also learn about the music business.

Entrepreneur and Producer. In addition to IMA, Millington founded her record label, Fabulous Records. The label has released her output and represents other artists as well.

Memoirist. In 2015 Millington published Land of a Thousand Bridges: Island Girl in a Rock & Roll World (Institute for the Musical Arts). It is an insightful account of her life and career and is brimming with intriguing anecdotes.

Musician. Millington’s primary instrument is the guitar. In addition to superb soloing in the rock and folk idioms, she has done laudable work on slide guitar and as a rhythm guitarist. She is also a singer-songwriter, able to blend and transcend multiple musical genres.

Rock Star. Millington was a founding member of Fanny, the all-woman rock/pop combo of instrumentalist singer-songwriters active from 1969 to 1975. They were the first such group to be signed to a major label (Reprise) and release studio albums. Fanny’s charting singles were “Charity Ball” (1971) and “Butter Boy” (1975), the latter released after she left the band. Reissues of their albums, including a CD box-set with previously unreleased tracks (First Time in a Long Time, Reprise, 2002), and a documentary film (Fanny: The Right to Rock, 2021, directed by Bobby Jo Hart) at long last give Fanny their due. 

Musical Pioneer/Iconic Figure. Millington was a significant presence in the nascent “women’s music” genre of the ’70s and ’80s. Notably, she contributed to Cris Williamson’s landmark album The Changer and The Changed (1975). She worked with the movement’s luminaries Holly Near, Mary Watkins, Tret Fure, and others.

And now there’s Millington’s current release, Snapshots, one of her strongest creations. Her versatility is evident. The songs range from blues-infused rockers to romantic folk ballads, from rap polemics to mainstream pop songs. The disparate musical styles unify to make a tapestry of commentary on topics and issues such as ethnicity, sexism, love, protest, and personal empowerment. Yet as serious and enlightening as much of the album is, it never stops being gloriously entertaining. 

Snapshots begins with “Make Me Happy”, one of the more entertaining songs. Jaunty and infectious, the energetic track is enhanced by its low-fidelity ambiance, which creates a sense of spontaneous joy. It is a pleasant way to begin the album and Millington overdubbed herself on various instruments for this effort.

The album’s notes indicate that the next three numbers are inspired by Millington’s reactions to the 6 January 2021 attack on the US Capitol. “Eagle to the Moon” is a humorous rockin’ blues, given gritty vocal treatment by Millington that’s perfectly in sync with guest artist Earl Slick. The recording is a raucous standout of the album, aided by playful lyrics. “Oh, that was fun!” Millington intones at the end of the dynamic performance. No one will be arguing the point.

“Girls Don’t Dream (The Big Lie)” has a lilting rhythm and graceful melody, with floating harmonies in the vocals. The gentle effect obscures that this is a protest song. There’s more sorrow and disappointment expressed past sexism than overt anger here, but indignation remains. This is one of the stronger tracks in the collection.

The rough edge of “Eagle to the Moon” returns with “Too Close to the Bone”. In a wonderful performance, Millington practically growls the lyrics, and once again, the vocals are paired with coarse guitar work from Slick. Slick’s work is similar to his playing on John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s pairing “I’m Losing You” / “I’m Moving On” from Double Fantasy (1980). The lyrics simultaneously describe and rage against exploitative conditions. Pain and anger are expressed, but also a warning that conditions better change.

“Letter from the Heart” strides through a litany of wants and desires for a better world from a young person’s point of view. It manages to express the innocence and optimism of youth as the music ticks along with an air of ultimate triumph.

“Fire in the Street” chronicles protests through “arguing” guitars with Millington playing both parts. Sound effects of in-the-street actions heighten the song’s impact. As the soundscape of protests morphs into riots before fading away, we hear a solitary xylophone plunking the opening phrase of the song “What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love”, making for an unexpected end to an intriguing track.

Self-awareness and internal power are at the heart of “Un-Knowable”. The lyrics contend that we don’t know how strong and resilient we are. The musical component chugs along with a funky bass line, which creates a swagger that supports the lyrics’ self-justified braggadocio. Self-knowledge wins out over doubt and ignorance.

Millington states that she was influenced by Paul McCartney’s song for the Beatles, “I Will” for her next song, “Stars at Night”. Both songs express clarity of emotion and sincerity. “Stars At Night” praises romantic love in a simple and direct exclamation, both lyrically and musically. 

“Grace” asks if we can find a “state of Grace” and if so where. The music has a steady yet prancing aspect, with occasional interludes from Millington’s guitar countering the underlying solidity of the rhythm while not undercutting it.

Millington turns to rap for “Eyes in the Back of Our Heads”. It’s multi-faceted work that describes attacks on Asian-Americans, often women, in the United States. It also references Asian-American history and concludes with a warning to perpetrators of such violence that they are being watched. Millington has dealt with issues of race and ethnicity in her music before. Melting Pot (2001) broached those topics in the album’s title song and other numbers, like “Slammin’ Babes”. 

An amusing live demo from the early ’70s follows, titled “The Ballad of Fanny”. Millington spiritedly relates the creation of Fanny and the joy she and her band-mates shared. It ends with famed producer Richard Perry’s seemingly condescending and dismissive comment of “Real cute”. The track was not developed during Millington’s tenure with Fanny nor was it included with other rarities in the 2002 retrospective Fanny box set (Fanny). It is certainly welcome here.

The concluding number is “Wonder Woman”, inspired by the comic book character and her recent cinematic representations. Her image is called to and utilized as a femicentric springboard to positivism and activism. Rap passages and a bouncy sing-along anthemic chorus plus swinging percussive moments propel the song and the album to a hopeful finalé.

And so ends a masterful album, deserving of wide recognition. As stated previously, Fanny is finally getting its due after all these years. Perhaps this sterling album will help do the same for June Millington’s extensive and laudable work beyond her time with that band. Seeing that come to pass would be the best “snapshot” of them all.

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