Miss Portia (New Album Review, Artist Guide!)
Daddy B. Nice's #138 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"It's Gon' Cost You"
Miss Portia (New Album Review, Artist Guide!)
To automatically link to Miss Portia's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other references, go to "Portia, Miss" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
December 29, 2017:
Originally Posted in Daddy B. Nice's New CD Reviews.
December 12, 2017: TRIPLE REVIEW!
POKEY BEAR: Bear Season (Ross Music Group) Five Stars ***** Can't Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven.
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Trailride Music Vol. 1 (Music Access) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.
MISS PORTIA: All In My Feelings (Ross Music Group) Three Stars *** Solid Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist.
A few years ago......the viability of recording CD's in the southern soul genre was seriously in doubt. A slew of the old masters, with surnames like Taylor, Sease, Campbell, Williams, Davis, Nightingale, Blackfoot, Holloway, Mendenhall, Lovejoy, Waiters, Willis and White, had passed away. The remaining veterans, with names like Carter, Brown, Rush, LaSalle, Clayton, Latimore and Scott-Adams, were no longer recording southern soul albums in the fashion or quantity they had in their heydays. (See Daddy B. Nice's Top 100 Southern Soul chart.) But something happened as the death knell for southern soul music sounded.
An influx of new artists and potent talent arrived, willing and eager to move into the spaces the masters had vacated. (See Daddy B. Nice's New Top 100 Southern Soul chart.) And rather than decline, the number of CD's published in the southern soul arena climbed. The year just ending marks a high point in recording activity, with the albums submitted to this page for review reaching an all-time high. And yet with more reviews posted than any previous year, I still find myself in arrears, with at least three albums too important not to review waiting in queue as January 1--the little baby in the diaper--approaches.
The first and biggest is Pokey Bear's BEAR SEASON, perhaps the most significant release of the year.
The second is the latest compilation, TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1, from the resurgent southern soul hotbed of Louisiana.
And, third, is the well-sung, well-produced debut by new southern soul artist Miss Portia with ALL IN MY FEELINGS.
Apologies to Miss Portia for reviewing her with two such high-profile albums. As a new artist, her three-star debut is the equivalent of a 4 or 5-star rating for headliners like Big Pokey Bear or a sampler like Trailride Music Volume 1. But more than year-end expediency binds these three albums together. Pokey Bear and Miss Portia appear frequently in all three discs, as does wunderkind Louisiana producer Beat Flippa, who produced the majority of the tracks from all three.
Miss Portia broke into southern soul music in 2014 on the Louisiana Blues Brotha's breakthrough album...Love On The Bayou, accompanying Tyree Neal on "I'm Still Wearing Your Name." A year later, Portia's visibility took a big step forward with fellow newcomer Veronica Ra'elle (accompanied by veteran diva Lacee) on the popular "answer" song to Pokey Bear's southern-soul-earth-shifting "My Sidepiece". The song: "My Sidepiece Reply".
Since then Miss Portia, the performing name of Portia Palmer, has been busy recording singles, making videos and touring. With the backing of producer Beat Flippa, her debut album ALL IN MY FEELINGS has a clarity and depth unusual for a first effort. Flippa's instrumental tracks--hiphop-crisp rhythm sections, deep-soul organ at times, sparkling acoustic-guitar runs at others-- flesh out bare-bones melodies in tunes powerfully sung by Portia:
Listen to Miss Portia singing "Use What I Got" on YouTube.
Listen to Miss Portia and Pokey Bear singing "It's Gon' Cost You" on YouTube.
In both these no-nonsense declarations Miss Portia transforms little more than chants into bonafide musical vehicles through the sheer passion in her singing. Portia--in English literature the romantic heroine of Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice"--makes no bones about being the street-wise woman who can deal with the "playa" types. Nevertheless, a duet with Ra'Shad (The Blues Kid), "You're All That I Need," revels in unlikely romance (and also delights in a full-fledged melody). But that track is the exception. More characteristic is the duet with Pokey Bear, "It Ain't Go Work"--also featured on Pokey's Bear Season--in which Miss Portia answers two wailing verses of Pokey Bear's marital discontent with an even more impressive verse of her own to close out the tune. Her vocal radiates authenticity and grit, and in this particular instance she "steals the show"
Miss Portia harks back to the great girl groups of the sixties, singers like Darlene Love on hits like "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "He's A Rebel". And you could look no further than Love's "Today I Met The Boy I'm Going To Marry" for a precursor to the marvelously-sung, gospel-drenched title cut, "All In My Feelings".
Mmmm... Phil Spector, producer of Darlene Love in rock and roll, to Beat Flippa, producer of Miss Portia in southern soul?...There are some parallels, the most obvious being the demonstrativeness of their respective styles and the resulting "freshness" in their respective eras and genres. Which brings us to Beat Flippa's newest compilation, in spite of not being advertised as such. And although TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1. is seemingly not published by the Ross Music Group (Beat Flippa is Daniel Ross), Ross's fingerprints are all over the collection, and fans can correctly assume the new sampler is on a par with the excellent Beat Flippa: I Got The Blues series.
Joining Miss Portia, Pokey, Tyree and all on TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1. are Jeter Jones, whose TRAILRIDE CERTIFIED album won a glowing 5-star rating on this page earlier this year; Crystal Thomas, whose singing your Daddy B. Nice recently (Dec. 17 Singles) described as "a tour de force--black as a steer's 'tookus on a moonless night"; Sharnette Hyter, another artist whose latest album was featured and praised here in 2017; Katrenia Jefferson, whom your Daddy. B. Nice has been touting since her obscure days in Jackson, Mississippi; and, finally, Big Cynthia, whose "Swing Out" charted here at #1 in December 2016, not long before her death. First-timers Deacon Dukes, Laylla Fox, G-Sky and Sweet Nay fill out the main roster.
Here is what I wrote--without benefit of any foresight, of course--about Big Cynthia before her untimely January 3rd death.
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .
1."Come Saddle Up" / "Swing Out"-------Big Cynthia / Big Cynthia featuring Pokey Bear
Cynthia never met a note she wanted to bend, which has arguably limited her appeal over the years. One of the longest-tenured artists in southern soul, this daughter of Junior Walker and current godmother to the Louisiana southern soul scene was recording for Avanti and Ace in the 90's. I succumbed to "Swing Out" after a couple of plays. The energy is too electric to do without. And man-of-the-moment Big Pokey submits an especially grainy, vintage-sounding vocal.
Listen to Big Cynthia and Pokey Bear singing "Swing Out" on YouTube.
The pertinent phrase from the "bullet" review is "current godmother to the Louisiana southern soul scene". After Jackie Neal, and to a lesser extent Stephanie McDee, Ms. Walker IS the house mother for contemporary southern soul-Louisiana style. Big Cynthia also contributes the catchy, zydeco-flavored "I'm Ready," a sultry duet with rising star Sharnette Hyter.
If TRAILRIDE MUSIC plays as a fitting memorial to Big Cynthia, it serves equally as a showcase for Jeter Jones, the uber-talented Louisiana artist who came out of nowhere to graft zydeco to southern soul in ways never before imagined. Jones' music is very much the heart and soul of the sampler--its thematic center--as represented by one of the most popular tunes from his Trailride Certified album, "She's Ratchet," as well as being the inspiration for one of the sampler's catchiest dance jams, "Watch My Boots, Pt. 2," a cloning of Jones' "Watch My Boots".
The new "Watch My Boots, Pt. 2," is the brainchild of yet another Ross Music Group discovery, Deacon Dukes. (Dukes also contributes the compelling "Prove My Love".) "Watch My Boots Pt. 2" features a lazy susan of singers: Jeter Jones, Pokey Bear, Miss Portia, Big Lee and Dukes.
And it might be said that what Ross Music Group does better than any current label, including Memphis' redoubtable Ecko Records, is to absorb and roll out exciting new artists with astounding regularity....But the biggest Jeter Jones gift to TRAILRIDE MUSIC is the anthology's keynote track. The "Z-B-T" in "ZBT Anthem" stands for "zydeco, blues and trail ride," and the "blues" stands for "southern soul". Most all the new RMG stars, with the exception of Cold Drank and a few others, participate in singing the verses: Pokey, Tyree, Jeter, Portia, Crystal, even rappers Blu3 Black & Gangsta.
I've described some of the best the album has to offer, but there are valleys amidst the peaks. Tyree Neal's "I'll Pay For It" irritates because it hews so closely to the Staple's classic, "Do It Again," note-to-note on the iconic bass line. And Tucka can't do anything with the remix of shrill-voiced Laylla Fox's repetitive "I Taste Like Candy." The words seem to get caught in his throat and dissolve, swallowed up in the instrumental track. And there is plenty of music in between the peaks and valleys, some better, some worse, most of it interesting, and most of it dominated--or in the lengthy shadow of--the Big Pokey Bear.
TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1 ends with a typical, musically-controversial Pokey Bear track: propulsive, repetitively-refrained, a "house"-style jam that might generate snickers if sung by anyone but this powerhouse at emoting conviction. "Pokey at the Trailride" features the Deaconaires, an offshoot, presumably, of this fascinating new character, Deacon Dukes. The hallmark of the song is a "Go Pokey!" chorus reminiscent of a Texas high-school football game. Beat Flippa spices it up with a little naked piano run, adds a little background horse-whinnying, and Pokey does what he does. Whether you succumb to its energy or shrug it off with a polite "no thanks," it's typical of the album's overall creativity.
...At times I regret giving this fine sampler only 4 stars. I blame it on Pokey Bear, whose BEAR SEASON is even more distinguished, and deserving of putting the Big Pokey on a pedestal all by his lonesome.Pokey's the kind of guy who can sing, over a wild, dancing-tempo-ed tune, the words--
"Take a look at Miss Cathy
With her high heels on..."
...and make you care about it--make you want to SEE it, make you want to get up and swing your hips. (From "Swing Out," the duet with Big Cynthia duplicated on both BEAR SEASON and TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1.)
I was openly skeptical of Pokey Bear's last album, the one with all the covers. Always liked that title, though: (Mr. It Ain't Fair.) I thought, "Now come on, big guy, you can show me more than this."
Well, your Daddy B. Nice is here to tell you Pokey Bear has delivered. BEAR SEASON is all you can ask of a major new southern soul star--one of a piece, daring, panoramic, above all "charged".
Pokey can sing louder and longer than anyone in the business. Every vocal is at fevered pitch. He flays his vocal cords relentlessly, the same way he whips his churning pelvis....You can't help but wonder if or when he'll "burn out". On "Lick That Nookie," a duet with O.B. Buchana (no "softie"), you can hardly make out O.B., and you wonder why Beat Flippa doesn't turn down the instrumentation (to over-simplify). That is, you do until Pokey Bear comes in. Suddenly the sound is just right.
I warmed to BEAR SEASON on the very first track, even though scoffing in the first few bars at the disco beat. It was "Meeting In The Ladies Room" (!), by the girl-group Klymaxx, one of those songs that makes me all warm and fuzzy remembering those great eighties' disco dance floors. Pokey's version, dominated by a blazing guitar and rhythm-guitar riff and a rare Beat Flippa vocal, is simply called Ladies Room," and I applaud Pokey for doing an upfront cover, unlike the "disguised" covers--recycled instrumental tracks dressed up in new clothes--of MR. IT AIN'T FAIR.
By the way, later in the album Pokey reprises one of those MR. IT AIN'T FAIR covers I've been criticizing--"Shake That Money Maker," a duet with Mystikal--but it's really a sample of "Genius Of Love," another great eighties jam. However, "Ladies Room" segues into another, more serious subject.
"I just got back from the doctor," says Pokey. "I got a disease. I'm addicted to women."
Here's how your Daddy B. Nice described "I Can't Be Faithful" earlier this year.
1. “I Can’t Be Faithful”----Big Pokey Bear featuring Bishop Bullwinkle
The two biggest new stars in southern soul music team up for the first time on a Beat Flippa-produced track that continues Pokey’s theme of being “addicted to the women.” Hewing to his theme of preaching about worldly evils, in this case Pokey’s, Bishop Bullwinkle stuns with his crystal-clear clarity and tone, proving he’s not just a novelty act but a unique vocalist.
Watch the official video starring Pokey Bear and Bishop Bullwinkle.
"Ladies Room" and "Faithful" commence an incredible opening run for BEAR SEASON. "I Can't Be Faithful" segues into "Naked," which is credited to The Louisiana Blues Brothas. Writer Tyree Neal's composing style is as languid as ice cream on a hot southern afternoon--I don't know if he's ever written an uptempo tune--but "Naked," with Beat Flippa's church-service-like organ swirling around the subtle, swinging melody, is perfect. Even Pokey Bear settles into something akin to sensitivity and finesse.
"I've got a woman on the other side of town," Pokey sings, "says she needing me," and the syllables of the lyric fit like jigsaw pieces perfectly into the tempo. "She said she wanna get naked."
Then, with three boffo numbers under his belt, Pokey Bear keeps the pedal to the floor with "In The Mood," a mid-tempo duet with Cupid.
"I'm so excited," Pokey croons. "To be dancing with you."
Cupid has done so many duets you can find them at your local flea market "a dime a dozen," few of them memorable, but "In The Mood" is an exception, with a likable melody, a groovy beat and a steady producing hand by the ever-present Beat Flippa. And, as in "Naked," Pokey shows his tender side to great effect. When Cupid's refreshingly romantic voice joins in, the contrast is just right. The song swells into something akin to an anthem.
Next up is yet another duet with a headliner, Lacee. Everybody wants to sing with Pokey, and southern soul's every-woman diva shines on "We Belong Together," a ballad of regret in which Pokey Bear once again defies expectations--and refutes what your Daddy B. Nice said above about always "flaying" his vocal cords--with yet another contemplative vocal. This evocative string of duet-ballads--with Tyree, Cupid and Lacee--lends the album a depth and coloration surprising for a Pokey Bear project.
Never mind. Pokey soon returns to a party-hardy frame of mind with the gravelly rapping of Mystikal ("Shake That Money Maker"), the torrid duet with O.B. ("Lick Dat Nookie"), the chiding rant "Don't Call Me," the domestic dysfunction with Miss Portia ("It Ain't Go Work"), the alley-cat wailing with Deacon Dukes ("House Ain't A Home"), and the wild, flailing dance rhythm of his duet with Big Cynthia ("Swing Out").
But as good as these tracks are, (not to mention a couple of others that follow, especially "Floating Without A Paddle"), they still don't prepare you for the mesmerizing pull of the Pokey Bear/Crystal Thomas duet "All I Want Is You".
Listen to Big Pokey Bear and Crystal Thomas singing "All I Want Is You" on YouTube.
Crystal Thomas broke into southern soul a couple years ago accompanying Jeter Jones on record and tour, and she published an uneven debut album, Lyrical Gumbo, reviewed here in 2016. The finest single from the album was "Country Girl," but nothing on the album or even the single quite hints at the breathtaking confidence and authority and fluid easiness of Crystal Thomas's vocal on "All I Want Is You".
Crystal sings like Ella Fitzgerald might have sounded had she been born after rap. And the two of them--Pokey Bear and Crystal Thomas--together? Imagine a darker, bayou version of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Beat Flippa's organ steams up the glass with bayou atmosphere while Pokey and Crystal volley back and forth like the bluesiest singers on the planet.
"Do you want money?"
"Do you want cologne?"
"Do you want a pair of patent leather shoes?
And Pokey says,
"Do you need diamonds?
"Do you need a car?"
"Do you need fancy things that make you feel like a star?"
All they need is each other, folks. And all you need is ears to take in the extraordinary groove and vocal back-and-forth. Pokey Bear's true forte'? Collaborative singing. "All I Want Is You" epitomizes everything that lifts this album into "southern soul heaven": energy, life, musicianship and blacker-than-midnight soul.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Pokey Bear's BEAR SEASON CD at CD Baby.
Buy Pokey Bear's BEAR SEASON (EXPLICIT) CD at Amazon.
Buy Pokey Bear's BEAR SEASON CD at iTunes.
Buy TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1 at Amazon.
Buy TRAILRIDE MUSIC VOL. 1 at iTunes.
Buy Miss Portia's ALL IN MY FEELINGS CD at CD Baby.
Buy Miss Portia's ALL IN MY FEELINGS CD at iTunes.
--Daddy B. Nice
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