Daddy B. Nice's #36 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"I Get By"
February 1, 2014:
NEW ARTIST GUIDE ALERT!Omar Cunningham is now the #20-ranking Southern Soul artist on Daddy B. Nice's new 21st Century Top 100 Countdown.
Go to Daddy B. Nice's new 21st-Century Artist Guide to Omar Cunningham.
See the chart, which encompasses a fifteen-year period in southern soul music.
See "Tidbits" below for the latest updates on Omar Cunningham.
To automatically link to Omar Cunningham's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other references, go to "Cunningham, Omar" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
Daddy B. Nice's Original Critique
By your Daddy B. Nice's count, Omar Cunningham has produced four solid chitlin' circuit hits in a little over two years: "Check To Check," "I Get By," "Sorry Man" and "Sweet, Sweet." When a young artist achieves that much radio exposure, doing everything that veteran artists do, it comes as a surprise (if not a shock) to look back and remember that Cunningam's recording career only began in 2003.
There's a "folksy" aspect to Omar Cunningham's best work, in particular "Check To Check" and "I Get By." You can imagine (don't laugh) Peter, Paul & Mary or Pete Seeger singing these songs accompanied by banjo and upright bass. And although Cunningham would probably prefer to credit gospel as his primary source, there's an undeniable echo of such early rock and roll acts as the Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly.
That's not to say that Cunningham can't branch out into more bluesy material. On "Sorry Man" Cunningham sounds like Johnnie Taylor. "Sorry Man" (from the Omar Cunningham LP, Endzone, 2004) also features a laid-back rap verse (it creates contrast and is becoming a frequent fixture of Southern Soul records), yet the song slides back into the melody line--and a good one at that--just as simply as Johnnie Taylor used to segue back from a spoken monologue.
"Sweet, Sweet," also from Cunningham's sophomore CD, shows the performer's ability to deliver a love ballad with the finesse of a Willie Clayton or a Vick Allen. But the songs the Southern Soul audience has come to associate most with Omar Cunningham ("Check To Check" and "I Get By") are light-touched homilies to persevering through hard economic times.
"I fell on hard times
A long time ago.
Landlord said I had to find
Somewhere else to go."
"I Get By" and "Check To Check" deliver messages that describe real-life, pay-the-bills dread as few songs do, yet they are couched in upbeat melodies and arrangements that let the air out of the stress. "I Get By" in particular attempts to deflate the tensions of contemporary life.
"Now I don't know
About the rest of you all.
But I'm too busy worrying
About my cholesterol."
"Now I ain't got
No mansion on the hill.
(All I need is)
A duplex, my Chevy,
And a loose ten dollar bill."
In "Check To Check" (Hell At The House, On Top, 2003). Cunningham is just "makin' it check to check." He has "bill collectors at the door" and he's "busting his butt" just to buy groceries. There's a spoken monologue in which a phone company representative calls about an overdue bill and Omar answers:
"Now look here.
I done told you all
That I'm living check to check,
And I just ain't got it.
I wish one of you all would come down here
And try to shut my phone off,
Because I'll come down there and. . .
All this anxiety takes place over a churning guitar lick that belies the despair. We laugh and we smile, knowing only too well that we wouldn't be doing so if we were considering our own debts. Yet it's easy to laugh given the comedic distance the song allows us, and the result is that we cherish the song even more. In some small way, it helps us face our own financial demons with a lighter heart.
Omar Cunningham has carved himself a nice little niche in just two album's worth of material. Along with young peers like Floyd Taylor, T. K. Soul and Vick Allen, he represents a talented new generation of Southern Soul hopefuls.
--Daddy B. Nice
About Omar Cunningham
Omar Cunningham was born in Gadsden, Alabama in 1969. Like most R&B musicians, he grew up singing gospel music, and he was exposed to secular music through his family members, including a grandmother who ran a boarding house that catered to musicians.
Song's Transcendent Moment
OMAR CUNNINGHAM: Growing Pains (Soul 1st) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.
Pent-up interest in this new Omar Cunningham album, Growing Pains, has been heavy, so let me just caution fans at the outset that it's not the home run some--including your Daddy B. Nice--may have anticipated. That speaks to expectations, and when you're beginning to put a guy up there with Sir Charles Jones and T. K. Soul and two or three other top young guns in Southern Soul music, expectations can get out of hand.
A lot of the expectations were based on two songs Omar Cunningham didn't even record but gave to others, both of which became very popular Southern Soul singles in the last two years, "Man Enough" by Karen Wolfe and "If They Can Beat Me Rockin'" by Vick Allen. If Omar could string together together two or three more classics like that on a CD, the thinking went, he'd have the Southern Soul equivalent of "Sergeant Pepper."
All of the selections on Omar Cunningham's Growing Pains CD are of excellent quality, but they blend into one another rather than jump out at you. In fact, the most surprising thing about the album is that there is no one spectacular cut: no song on the order of "Baby Don't Leave Me" or "I Get By" or "Give Me A Chance" or "The Beauty Shop" or "My Life."
"Maintenance Man," the first radio single and the most radical departure from any prior style of Omar's, is probably the best candidate for an exception, but let's get to the tracks in order first.
1. "Let Me See You Shake Your Jelly" is a variation on the most well-known "jelly" song, the late Fred Bolton's "It Must Be Jelly" ("Girl it must be jelly/ Because girls don't shake like that)." Omar's song honors the same tempo and keyboard sound.
2. You may shed a tear when you hear how close the rhythm track, tempo and overall sound of "Find A Good Woman" are to "Man Enough," the song Omar wrote for Karen Wolfe, the song that put her over the top, the song--let's admit it--that's better than this one. The tears may continue for two or three listenings, then the "Good Woman" hook begins to take over. You gradually forget about "Man Enough" and everything's okay.
3. "Here I Am" is as traditional and Vandrossian as you can get, almost--dare I say the dreaded word--"mainstream".
"Here I am standing here
Ready and willing and able.
I just want you to know
I'm putting my cards on the table."
The chorus is old-old-school (which I liked), Ames Brothers-old if anyone is left alive who remembers them. One oddity is a man/woman call and response in which Omar uses his own voice, rather than a female's, on the woman's part.
4. But just when you're maybe thinking this is Cunningham's bedroom album, along comes "If We Can't Get Along," a ballad on the subject of separation.
"If we can't get along
We need to get apart,
Because you broke up all of my shit
And now you're breaking my heart."
As with the preceding cuts, the production is crisp and lush.
5. A real change of pace, "I'm Your Maintenance Man" features upfront percussion and a Ray Manzarek-style keyboard on a fast, bare blues that visits the territory of Bobby Rush's "I'll Be Your Handyman." This is the toughest, most aggressive rocker ever by Omar.
6. "That's A Lie" returns to the separation theme of "If We Can't Along." Here Omar takes it to the limit, complete with rousing arrangement with urban r&b crescendos hitherto unheard (except for maybe Carl Sims and more recently Queen Emily) in Southern Soul.
Maybe this is the album's "spectacular" song. It's without a doubt Omar's most impassioned vocal.
7. "What You Want With My Momma" is a novelty song with children's voices somewhat reminiscent of the late Jackie Neal's "The Way We Roll" or, more recently, Unckle Eddie's and Crystal Dylite's "I'm Gone Tell Momma."
"Mr. Lowdown" (9) and "Do Right" (8) are mid-tempo, "Check To Check"-like tunes, the latter co-composed with Vick Allen. The hooks are generic but the scintillating sheen of Cunningham's production is everywhere evident.
Omar closes out the set with an extravaganza of guest cameos on a soulful, gospel-drenched coda, "Gotta Keep (Do You Know Him?)," in order of appearance Lacee, Bigg Robb, Vick Allen and LaMorris Williams. The album is co-produced by Soul 1st Record's Reginald McDaniel.
Growing Pains, I think, is an apt title. This album has a "transitional" feel to it.
One thing's for sure. Once you start playing it, you won't turn it off. Highly recommended.
--Daddy B. Nice
Sample or Buy Omar Cunningham's Growing Pains CD/MP3's.
Read Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Omar Cunningham.
January 23, 2011:
Omar Cunningham wins BEST SOUTHERN SOUL SONGWRITER OF THE YEAR: See 4th Annual "Daddies," Southern Soul Music Awards
Daddy B. Nice comments: With break-out hits like Karen Wolfe's "Man Enough" and Vick Allen's "If They Can Beat Me Rockin'" under Omar's songwriting belt in just the last couple of years, this award was long overdue.
October 8, 2011: NEW ALBUM ALERT
Fans have been eagerly awaiting this one.
Sample or Buy Omar Cunningham's Growing Pains CD/MP3's.
See Daddy B. Nice's CD Review: Scroll down to Tidbits #6.
July 19, 2015:
NEW ALBUM ALERT!
Sample/Buy Omar Cunningham's ALL MY BEST: THE SOUL HITS at Amazon.
Sample/Buy Omar Cunningham's ALL MY BEST: THE SOUL HITS at iTunes.
Hell at the House
Check to Check
Party Have a Good Time
Something's Gotta Give
I'm in Love With a Married Woman
Shysters & Wannabes
Find a Good Woman
If We Can't Get Along
I'm Your Maintenance Man
That's a Lie
Can't Make You Do Right
What You Want With My Mama
That's My Jam
I Get By
She's Making Eyes at Me
Send Her to Me
Browse all of Omar Cunningham's CD's in Daddy B. Nice's CD Store.
If You Liked. . . You'll Love
Honorary "B" Side
"Check To Check"
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