Daddy B. Nice's - Guide to Today's Top Chitlin' Circuit Rhythm and Blues Artists


Daddy B. Nice's New CD Reviews

August 12, 2017:

JAYE HAMMER: Last Man Standing (Ecko Records) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.

Jaye Hammer's new album, LAST MAN STANDING, features his zydeco-flavored hit single of last year, "Trail Ride," which--along with O.B. Buchana's "Why Can't I Be Your Lover?"-- marked Ecko Records' dual entry into the hot southern soul/zydeco market in 2016. With an infectious, mid-tempo rhythm track and a sweet-sounding, button-accordion hook, "Trail Ride" won Daddy B. Nice's Best Out-Of-Left-Field Song of 2016.

"Tell Aunt Sally,
Call Uncle Luke..."

Hammer sings,

"We're headed for Texas,
Down along the Louisiana line...
We're kicking off in Beaumont,
Down to Abilene..."

Trail rides have become cultural mainstays in southern Louisiana and southeast Texas. From spring through fall, not a weekend goes by without devotees gathering at stables for Friday and Saturday afternoon horse rides followed by nightly entertainment featuring zydeco, southern soul and blues. On Sunday mornings, the sleepy and satiated participants return to their work weeks, refreshed physically, mentally and musically. Hammer's "Trail Ride" anthem, written by the prolific John Cummings and John Ward, celebrates it all, capturing both the euphoria and the powerful sense of place.

Arguably one of the most talented and influential of current Ecko Records/Memphis-area songwriters, John Cummings contributes the bulk of the album's material, and the first three songs on this set are especially noteworthy. "Last Man Standing Up In It," readers will instantly notice, incorporates a few more words than the truncated title of the CD, "Last Man Standing." That's a tribute to Theodis Ealey's "Stand Up In It".

Jaye's "Last Man Standing Up In It" is a direct boast of male sexual prowess and, by extension, the ability of the man to please, provide, and protect the opposite sex. And to Cummings' and Hammer's credit, this theme permeates the album with admirable consistency, a perfect vehicle for Hammer's pleading but steely, country-boy voice. In fact, the only false note on the CD comes when Jaye says, in "Last Man Standing Up In It," he'll "be there in a New York minute."

The mid-tempo "Party At Home" has an alluring melody, and it's bolstered immeasurably by the addition of background singer LaToya Malone. For context on "Party At Home," go to David Brinston's "Kick It," which perfectly conveys the peer-pressure pull to go party with one's friends. "Party At Home," on the other hand, elucidates the delights of "partying" at home with one's spouse, and the subject has seldom been done better.

"Mississippi Style," currently (August '17) Daddy B. Nice's #4 "Breaking" Southern Soul Single, is another boasting, fronting, I'm-a-man-styled tune. It delivers a driving rhythm track, a nicely-nuanced, organ-tinged, John Ward arrangement, more great female background, and a fine, wailing lead vocal by Hammer with lyrics that cry out for politically-correct double-takes...

"Drinking corn whiskey,
Wine and gin.
Pull to the side of the road,
Pick up some friends.
If I get a little drunk,
That is just fine.
The judge and the county sheriff
Are cousins of mine."


"Got kids in eleven counties,
Calling me 'Dad'..."


"Drinking whiskey with my uncle,
Went to church with my aunt."

Even the chorus line is enchanting:

"I'm doing it Mississippi style.
Been doing it for awhile."

Visions of Chuck Berry singing "Johnny B. Goode" dance across your vision when Hammer's at his best--as he is here--a big-chested, Delta country boy full of piss and vinegar. You can imagine his ideal fan, a lonely woman, listening to Jaye's begging and bragging just for the vicarious satisfaction.

These songs followed by "Trail Ride" form an impressive--totally seductive--opening to the album and any first-timers' introduction to Jaye Hammer, but the middle half of the CD drops off. The uptempo "Let's Do It," the ballad, "It's Real," the mid-tempo "When I Can Give Her Something You Can't," the slow-blues "I'm A Package Handler" and "Big Booty Women" can't be faulted for execution, but lack the incandescence and originality of "Last Man Standing Up In It," "Party At Home" and "Mississippi Style".

The album trends up again towards the end with a remix of "Trail Ride," accompanied by "Good Old Country Boy," yet another remake of the most-covered tune in contemporary southern soul, "Mississippi Boy" by Will T.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Jaye Hammer's "Last Man Standing" CD at iTunes.

Read Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Jaye Hammer. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

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August 1, 2017:

SHARNETTE HYTER: Grown Folks Talkin' (Lockdowne Records) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort by a New Southern Soul Artist.

I stumbled upon Sharnette Hyter only a few months ago on YouTube while tracking down videos of another southern soul artist. The song that caught my attention was "I'm Classy," which debuted on the Southern Soul charts at #5 in December of 2016, and which I duly noted was "another find for Daniel Ross (Beat Flippa) and the Baton Rouge-based Ross Music Group". The tune featured a female singer with an Adrena-like vocal register and an atmospheric, Beat Flippa arrangement heavy on bass and keyboard/organ.

Interest piqued by "I'm Classy," I moved on via YouTube to the Hyter song, "Hold On (To What You Got)," with a full-fledged video starring Sharnette and co-singer Joe Tex II, which charted here at #6 in January of 2017.

Listen to Sharnette Hyter & Joe Tex II singing "Hold On" on YouTube.

Then, over the next few months, in spite of two events that should have nudged your Daddy B. Nice into full, five-alarm attentiveness, I unaccountably lost interest in Ms. Hyter. The first event was a huge package from Sharnette from Desoto, a southern suburb of Dallas, where she was born. The mailing, which included a half-dozen (!) hard copies of records previously published by Sharnette, sat unopened on my slush pile, a mini-mountain of still-sealed product, while I slogged through a backlog of previously-received material.

The second event was an e-mail from Heikki Suosalo alerting me to an exhaustive interview he'd completed with the Dallas singer at Soul Express, a European website specializing in soul music. "Please get acquainted with a flat-footed country girl singing soul," said the e-mail from Suosalo, who incidentally was just honored this summer by the Italian Poretta Soul Festival for his long-tenured commentary and interviews with southern soul artists from America's Deep South.

Read the Sharnette Hyter interview at Soul Express.

But once again, your Daddy B. Nice was too occupied with other responsibilities to follow up. So it wasn't until earlier this month (July!) that I finally opened the bulky package from Texas and was stunned by the volume and variety of the workaholic Ms. Hyter's catalog: a duet/single-cover with Patrick Green of "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing"; a gospel album titled Keep The Faith; a 2014 single called "Military Man"; a 2010 (!) album named Southern Soul Party Every Night; and her latest CD, 2016's Grown Folks Talkin', which contains "I'm Classy" and "Hold On." She's even tried her hand at jazz.

Nor am I going to mislead readers that I subsequently went through all of these recordings. But I have listened with rapt attention and growing interest to last year's Grown Folks Talkin', which--had I known at the time how good it was--would have garnered many more citations and awards in Daddy B. Nice's Best Of 2016. But better late than never.

The first two tracks of the GROWN FOLKS TALKIN' album, "I've Got A Love" and "I'm Not Her," were what I expected they would be: that is, urban r&b-flavored, borderline southern soul of the smooth persuasion, performed by a singer who--despite some hints of power--hews to the finesse of urban radio.

Then came the freight-train like impact of "Put It On Paper," the third track--yes, the old Ann Nesby classic (with Al Green). Patrick Henry takes Green's place, and the cut scorches the earth. Before your very ears, in the space of one song, Sharnette Hyter transforms herself into a southern soul singer.

Suddenly her voice incorporates lower-octave tones, like flecks of light on an outdoors photo. Her delivery takes on the succinctness of a whip, with implied and applied power flowing through each and every note. With "Put It On Paper," the album shifts into something important--something genuine. You know that Sharnette knows, too. It's--as they say--a defining moment. Her level of confidence soars.

Listen to Sharnette Hyter & Patrick Henry singing "Put It On Paper" on YouTube.

Next comes the slowly-swinging "Hold On," with Sharnette's Adrena-like vocal trading lines with Tex. As it turns out, GROWN FOLKS TALKIN' is flush with such guest stars, and "Need a Mr. Do Right," (featuring the late Big Cynthia) grounds the album once and for all. Beat Flippa produces, and it's one of his most creative. This is a hard-pounding, melody-less, dance-floor jam relying totally on its groove and the nasty-tough singing of Big Cynthia and Sharnette, who slips into the tough-girl mode with effortless ease--something Adrena does not.

"So Much Better" features Jeter Jones, whose TRAILRIDE CERTIFIED CD won a five-star review on this page earlier this year. This track is a somber ballad with a great, Peter Gabriel-like arrangement. Just as in the Big Cynthia cut, Sharnette feels no compulsion to dominate the track, giving Jeter the freedom to contribute a "Roommate"-like facet to the growing variety of the set.

Then came the album's epiphany. I still hadn't (but I soon would) read the Suosalo interview, which documents Hyter's history as an energetic, constantly striving, human dynamo, when out of my speakers came Sharnette's "Stilettos And Jeans". Featuring cajun artist J.J. Callier, "Stilettos and Jeans" may be the the most easy-going, organic cloning of a southern soul verse/chorus/melody with a zydeco beat/arrangement yet made.

Listen to Sharnette Hyter featuring J.J. Callier singing "Stilettos And Jeans" on YouTube.

The song is perfectly performed--easy-going, never bombastic--so much so you just want to keep reeling it round and round. "I'm the bomb," Shar' brags euphorically towards the end, and she is. How this song failed to show up on my radar for so long I'll never know, but now that it has, you can be sure it will be Daddy B. Nice's #1 "Breaking" Southern Soul Single for August 2017.

I'll just add that you don't have to do the line dance to dance to "Stilettos and Jeans," as the little girl in the Mardi Gras dress in the video proves. And after dancing around the room to "Stilettos And Jeans" a few times, I was satiated. Cowgirl Sharnette could have wrapped me in rope for the rest of the set. Your Daddy B. Nice was a captive audience.

And Sharnette did not disappoint. The album closed with two Charles Lewis (Heavy)-produced dance jams and a Mike Lockett-produced ballad that can best be described as a mixture of the urban-inflected, Ves-produced "I've Got A Love" and the southern soul-purified "Put It On Paper". The more you listen to it, the more the cut impresses.

Listen to Sharnette Hyter singing "Got Me Going In Circles" on YouTube.

Heavy (Charles Lewis) is the Baton Rouge-based maestro behind Pokey's big hit song, "My Sidepiece," and Cold Drank's follow-up, "Three," both of which have monopolized much space and commentary here. "Three," the lesser-known of the two, was Daddy B. Nice's #1 Single of 2016.

Dominated by Lewis's trademark percussion and organ-heavy arrangements (and refreshingly potent horn riffs), both "Hit My Spot Right" and "You Ain't Getting It (Without No Rubber)" add a grit and toughness hard to come by in most female-oriented projects.

Indeed, the bounty of fine producers is a major factor in the success of GROWN FOLKS TALKIN'. In addition to Heavy and Beat Flippa and Jeter Jones, Ves Garrett (of "We Do We" fame) does the honors on the aforementioned "I"ve Got A Love," his pop/urban mannerisms especially evident on the choruses and bridge. And Mike Lockett, the most urban r&b-influenced of the arrangers ("Hold On," "I'm Not Her," and "Still Don't Pay My Bills"), nevertheless takes his production to southern soul heaven with the smashing arrangement on "Stilettos and Jeans".

In an age when divas come and go like commuters through turnstiles, and one-hit wonders like Anita Love "Keep Knockin' (But You Can't Come In)" and Lina ("I Won't Let My Baby Down (My Man)") wow us with spectacular singles only to disappear along with their short-lived triumphs, Sharnette Hyter appears to be that rare commodity with all the tools, motivation and support to be a "keeper". With GROWN FOLKS TALKIN', she puts the southern soul audience on notice that a new and authentic southern soul singer has arrived.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Sharnette Hyter's GROWN FOLKS TALKIN' CD at CD Baby.

Sample/Buy Sharnette Hyter's GROWN FOLKS TALKIN' CD at iTunes.

See Daddy B. Nice's new Artist Guide to Sharnette Hyter.

************ - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page.


July 16, 2017:

SWEET ANGEL: Can't Walk Away (SA / Sweet Angel Records)
Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

After an LP-recording hiatus of five years, Sweet Angel returns with an outstanding collection: CAN'T WALK AWAY. The singer from Memphis wrote all of the tunes (excepting “Steps To Love”), and the time spent away from the studio shows in the songs. They have the depth of real life and the verisimilitude of a debut album.

Not that there aren’t derivative exercises. The negligible “How Low Can You Go” (zydeco's "my tu-tu") and the superb “Thrill Is Real” (via B.B. King, of course) are obvious riffs on classic templates, and the two “obligatory” warm-up numbers that kick off the album, “Take A Look” and “Hold Back The Booga Bear,” hardly hint at the wealth and originality of southern soul material to come.

However, by the time Sweet Angel is halfway through the bar-bluesy “Booga Bear,” with the lead guitar (great throughout) blazing and with her background singers kicking in on choruses, she's ready to take you into the good stuff, some of which has charted here in the last three months.

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------MAY 2017-------


"I Wanna Ride It" / "Actions Speak Louder Than Words"-----Sweet Angel

CAN'T WALK AWAY is Sweet Angel's first album in five years--since her deep and mysterious "Mr. Wrong's Gonna Get This Love Tonight."

Listen to Sweet Angel singing " Ride It" on YouTube.

Listen to Sweet Angel singing "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" on YouTube.

And, a month after....

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------JUNE 2017-------


"The Thrill Is Real"-----Sweet Angel

"The Thrill Is Real" reminds me of "The Thrill Is Gone Again," Denise LaSalle's evocative reworking of the B.B. King classic in 2005. These ladies know how to sing the Boss. Sweet Angel's abrupt transition to a reggae interlude, complete with her staccato-flourished saxophone solo, also works to perfection.

Listen to Sweet Angel singing "The Thrill Is Real" on YouTube

As mentioned, this album's true identity doesn't really kick into full gear until its third track, the head-turning "I Need A Real Love," but from then on it continues unabated with nary a lapse in material or execution through the better part of a dozen tunes: a veritable, all-you-can-eat feast of southern soul. My only reservations: I'm not enamored of the title cut, "Can't Walk Away," done twice, nor the double serving of "Still Crazy For You". These cuts aren't duds, though, and they may win over their own adherents among Sweet Angel fans.

Listen to Sweet Angel singing "I Can't Walk Away From Mr. Good Thang" on YouTube.

"Still Crazy For You" derives from a little-known single release on CD Baby in 2013, while "Juking At The Hole In The Wall," another remix, first appeared on Angel's last CD, Mr. Wrong Gonna Get This Love Tonight.

Although I was drawn to the southern soul purity of "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" from the start, "I Wanna Ride It" was the first track to really grab my attention. Initially put off by its funk edge, as I listened to it more and more I was pulled into its fascinating matrix of voice-over story-telling and musical groove. As in Sweet Angel's tribute to being a would-be back-up singer for Bobby Rush in "A Girl Like Me," Sweet Angel can spin a narrative with the best of them, and in "Ride It" she progresses by stages from riding a little pink bicycle to riding a full-grown man--"this leg in the east/this leg in the west"--and when Sweet Angel trades "Ride it's" with her background singers, sex rises like steam from sweet corn in a pot of boiling water.

"Ride It” and “Steps To Love” were released, with little fanfare, as singles through CD Baby in 2015. I had heard "Steps To Love" played around a little, but not "Ride It." "Steps To Love" is another example of Sweet Angel's songwriting acumen, this one laid out like a speaker's power point presentation. "How To Keep Your Man: 101." Not only does Sweet Angel sing the song with feeling and technique--she outlines it for the ladies in four easy steps.

Listen to Sweet Angel singing "Steps To Love" on YouTube.

Adding immeasurably to the pit-stop pleasures of this album are the pop-sounding background choruses (with obvious gospel roots) in songs like "Steps To Love," "Ride It," and even the gospel number, "If It's For Me." This ballad-slash-prayer is not only musically compelling but conceptually fascinating, posing the humble premise that one may not know the best path or thing for oneself:

If it's for me,
Give it to me.
If it's not for me,
Take it away.

The ending is a climax of gospel-based pop, in other words true southern soul. The mid-tempo "I Got Your Back," on the other hand, is unexpurgated man-woman talk, and again Sweet Angel benefits greatly by contrasting her lead vocal against the background singing of Jacquelyn Ingram and Mattie Hester. (Not to mention the solid guitar-picking of Wayne Whitmore.) The merging of voices recalls the wildly popular girl-group anthems of yesteryear.

Listen to Sweet Angel singing "I Got Your Back" on YouTube.

Finally, the musicianship is first-rate, with Randy Goodlow on drums, Donald Taylor on bass, Michael O. Cole (co-writer of "Steps To Love") on keyboard/organ in addition to Whitmore on guitar. The contrast in styles with the "John Ward" (CEO of Ecko) "sound"--which I assumed emanated from the very walls of the studio in Memphis, where CAN'T WALK AWAY was recorded--is refreshing and illuminating, not to mention a credit to the musicians themselves. The majority of Sweet Angel's CD's have been produced by Ecko.

Most of all, I'm amazed by Sweet Angel's nose for the overall sound she achieves with her background singers, a production "hunch" undoubtedly won from dues-paying gigs with background singers over the years. How many female singers doom their efforts for wider acceptance not only by their budgets, but their competitive fear of adding background singers of their own gender?

Not Sweet Angel. She is far too comfortable in her own persona and ability to compose songs of substance. The roots of those songs are planted firmly in southern soul soil, with their stems and flowers straining mightily for mainstream pop heaven. And that's why your Daddy B. Nice prefers to take the "can't-walk-away" title of this CD to be a message from Sweet Angel herself that she "can't walk away" from the southern soul scene.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Sweet Angel's CAN'T WALK AWAY CD at CD Baby.

Read Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Sweet Angel.

********* - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

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July 1, 2017:

EL' WILLIE: The Game Changer (William Travis Jr. & El' Willie / Twilight Records)
Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

If you're burned out from listening to too much Pokey Bear, I have just the album for you: El' Willie's new The Game Changer. The first time I put this disc in the machine, I was blown away. I had been stressed, and even when I wasn't feeling the stress, I had been listening to pretty much exclusively, admittedly terrific, fast-jumping music like Jeter Jones' jam, "Single Footin', music--in other words--that chafed my butt if I was sitting down on it. El' Willie's slow-jam set was like nothing I had heard in a long time: slow, peaceful, lounging music, meditative and soothing, like an aural hot-tub and massage.

And I wasn't just blown away by the peacefulness of the music. I was staggered by the fact it was El' Willie. In my years of reviewing southern soul, this artist had been all over the map, up and down in ways that made "erratic" an understatement. I didn't even remember the extremes of his fluctuations. If anyone had told me I'd once awarded El' Willie Best Male Vocalist of the year, I'd have said, "Nahhh," but I had, and I did--in 2007 for his vocal on "You Got Me Where You Want Me." (Sorry, but the YouTube link isn't the much better original version.) And if anyone had reminded me that I once gave an artist a one-star review ("A Disappointment. Avoid."), I'd have said, "Nahhh. Never." But I had and I did, for El' Willie's The Anthem, which--subsequently--El' never distributed as a full album.

There was, however, a harbinger, of what was to come: the song "Nobody," or, "Ain't Never Had Nobody To Love Me Like You Do" in....

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------DECEMBER 2016-------


"Nobody"-----El' Willie

Ever wonder what Willie would sound like on a professionally-produced record? Pretty impressive, as it turns out. Willie told me he sent me the wrong mix, and I said, "No, you didn't." A long, leisurely, Herbie Hancock-ish, instrumental intro leads into El's intimate, velvet-baritone vocal, and it's worth the wait--justified in the way you would wait to be ushered into a bishop's inner chambers. Reminiscent of the jazz/blues of Charles Brown.

Listen to El' Willie singing "Nobody" on YouTube.

What first impressed me about "Nobody" was the audacious length of the instrumental introduction, a "Summer Madness"-like keyboard-synth solo that only a very confident recording artist would dare foist on the listener. And when the solo segued into the vocal, El's intimate voice--double-tracked on the chorus--more than justified the leisurely preamble, coalescing in one sweet and successful catharsis.

What I didn't know at the time the "Nobody" single launched was that El' produced it all. And what I had taken to be a more professional producer's "help" was that darned Willie just doing his thing--writing, arranging, producing and almost everything else short of standing on his head--only at a much higher and consistent level than in the past.

Yes, the arrangements are what mainstream critics call "sparsely produced," and those dreaded synthetic horns rear their "Dollar General" (I was going to say "nickel and dime" but I guess that term is outdated) heads once in awhile. And yet, in its simplistic way, each song is flawless, a distinct identity--genuine and self-contained--and El' Willie communicates each with aplomb, with the dominant sound a meditative organ that perfectly fits the contemplative tone. The scope of the album is panoramic (the Willie has been busy) and the tunes float into one another like ripples in a quiet lily pond.

I'm especially impressed by Willie's delivery--how he sets up a song. I don't know how to describe it other than El' Willie now sounds natural. That is, there are no misguided song choices, no blips, no failures of nerve or execution.

In the past, a voice-over like the one that starts and intermittently emerges in "Sexy Lady (Remix)" would strike a false note, a flaw that might originate in the arrangement as much as in the words--it was hard to tell. The whistling in "Sexy Lady," for instance, might seem like a mis-step. But either I'm getting awfully used to The Willie or the whistling--simple and crude as it is--works to perfection, meaning I like hearing it again and again. The addition of the striking Clinton Powell guitar solo on "Sexy Lady" also tells you how much you've missed in the form of embellishment from Willie's historically routine fare.

Another stand-out track is "Caller I.D.," in which Willie sings--

"Strange as it seems,
That's the wrong number.
It was the right number
For me."

--over a melody so precious you want to put a tiara on it. Accomplished vocalists like O.B. Buchana or Tre' Williams or Nelson Curry--perennially starved for first-rate material--could transform "Caller I.D." or other of the songs on the set into southern soul blockbusters.

The mid-tempo "Dance" is the most brisk of the CD's tunes, along with the mid-tempo title track, "The Game Changer," perhaps my least favorite of the album's eleven distinct songs. Everything else is balladeering. (The compelling and durable "Feel Real Good" is done twice--an original and a remix.) The touching "Love Story" and "My Baby" (with a nod to the Temps' "My Girl") are drenched in a sincerity neither overblown nor sophomoric.

These songs are so good, many of the tunes don't even utilize the hooks available to be improvised within their structures. Take, for example, the barely-audible guitar riff/progression on "Feel Real Good," which would transform the song entirely if accentuated. Like many of the songs on the CD, the tune exists like an unopened treasure chest of musical possibilities.

Willie has recorded songs like "Love Land," with its story line of a woman calling him up at two a.m. in the morning, in the past and they've more often than not come across awkwardly and somewhat self-serving. Here, in the seamless context of this essentially flawless set centered on love and friendship, it comes across as genuine.

Listening to "You Were Always On My Mind," I couldn't help wondering, "Isn't that a Willie Nelson song?" And sure enough, El' gives credit to Willie Nelson in the credits. The selection fits, too. El' writes ballads with the same kind of affection and proprietariness the legendary country singer/songwriter does. I also note a resemblance in the synthetic strings to some of Sir Charles Jone's early slow jams.

The Game Changer is a tapestry of refined mood--an anomaly in the last decade of southern soul music. You can almost go back to the reasons you once loved Dave Brubeck's and Paul Desmond's "Take Five"--and the way that sound influenced the soft jazz of the seventies--in the "peace" this music emanates. What this means is that you can put on this album for the same reason the "grown folks" used to put on Johnny Mathis or Nat King Cole: for dim-light, wine-and-dine romantic background that never falters in its steady gushing of intimate ambience. And yet, it's southern soul, it's still El' Willie, southern soul's iconic version of smooth.

One note of caution. The two gospel songs that close out the set--although solid on their own merits--do break the romantic ambience, and the more invested you are in that mood, the more compelled you'll be to skip them.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy El' Willie's THE GAME CHANGER album at CD Baby.

Read Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to El' Willie.

********* - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

Product, comments, information or questions for Daddy B. Nice?

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June 7, 2017:

BIG G: Darkest Hour (Stone River Records) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.

I've described Richmond, Virginia's Big G as "built like a hundred-year-old tree stump" and "a cross between soul singers like Joe Simon and Clarence Carter and folksingers like Burl Ives, Jimmy Dean and Tennessee Ernie Ford." He's published, by my count, some nineteen albums--twenty including his newest release, Darkest Hour--since his debut Steppin' Out in 1999. That's an average of an album a year over two decades, long enough for the prolific Big G to start recycling titles (see the first track, "Steppen,") and more than long enough to be given some genuine respect.

Big G's southern soulfulness is most in evidence on DARKEST HOUR'S slow numbers. He dives deep--deeper than most--into emotional love situations like those described vividly in "Down On My Knees" and "Darkest Hour," the latter a Top Ten Single in May '17.

Listen to Big G singing "The Darkest Hour" on YouTube.

The song is deep and passionate--think James Carr --and "Down On My Knees" delivers the same merger of melodic quality and physical-turned-spiritual ardor.

Listen to Big G singing "Down On My Knees" on YouTube.

The remix of "Can't Stop Thinking About You," is also a standout, with its sparkling female chorus. Big G uses his female background singer (Lady TJ) as a a bracing contrast, reminding us of the uniqueness of his own voice. Listen to the back and forth vocals in "Can You Hear Me?" The same, lovely female chorus graces the aforementioned "The Darkest Hour."

The rest of the CD, including songs like "Shake That Thang" and "Ladies' Man," will be familiar as an old rag rug to Big G addicts. "Ladies' Man" boasts the best Big G vocal, with the big man throwing out words like a bullwhip in a Clint Eastwood Western. Typical uptempo tracks like "Steppen" and "Backyard Barbeque," a remix of "Two Steps In The Name Of Love," (always a charm to listen to) and an instrumental version of "Backyard Barbeque" close out the album.

This release features all "live" instruments. The drums are credited to Glenn Jones. Could that be THE Glenn Jones, of "Baby, Come Home" fame? It seems unlikely, but I've never seen another "Glenn" with two "n's". Sir Jonathan Burton plays bass and collaborated with Big G on the arrangements, which are stellar.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Big G's DARKEST HOUR at CD Baby. Darkest Hour - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

May 22, 2017:

DAVID BRINSTON: Sidepiece Motel (Ecko) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

David Brinston sounds refreshed and energized from the opening bars of his new CD, SIDEPIECE MOTEL. Faithful readers have become familiar with the less than stellar pattern of recent Brinston CD's and the Daddy B. Nice reviews which--in response--have hopscotched between present-day disappointment and rousing memorials to Brinston's early achievements.

Marking David's first original album on Ecko Records since 2010's Beat It Up, SIDEPIECE MOTEL will quickly remind die-hard Brinston fans of one of his more fondly-remembered, mid-career albums, the self-published MISSISSIPPI BOY, in its attention to and celebration of Delta blues and chitlin' circuit culture.

The first single from the album to chart here (May 2017) is a smashing return to artistic form and evocation of Deep South ennui and coping entitled "I Drinks (sic) My Whiskey":

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------MAY 2017-------


"I Drinks My Whiskey"-----David Brinston.

Ohhh, David. My-oh-myyy. You haven't sounded this "wasted" in years, and it is a beautiful thing to hear. And just so readers don't get the wrong impression...It takes supreme alertness and the technique of a star to pull off this kind of authentic "oneness" with a song. From Brinston's new album, SIDEPIECE MOTEL.

Listen to David Brinston singing "I Drinks My Whiskey" on YouTube.

"I Drinks My Whiskey" may be the finest and "bluesiest" ballad Brinston has recorded since the durable "Somebody's Cutting My Cake". Written by James Jackson, one of the most inspired composers to come out of the Memphis area in recent years, "I Drinks My Whiskey" is a heart-breaking piece of T.R.U.T.H. any man can relate to. After a litany of miseries including "they turned my cell phone off," David sings:

"Whenever my life gets rough,
I get into my pickup truck,
And turn the radio on,
And hear me some blues.

And I drinks my whiskey.
Everything's going to be all right,
...For a little while."

It's the "for a little while"--and the pregnant pause that precedes it--that sinks like a hook in the vulnerable soul of any self-medicating man, fearful of substance abuse yet desperate for inner peace. It's the "for awhile" that hurts--that gives the song "bite".

"My Outside Woman," on the other hand, is one of those familiar-sounding, mid-tempo, Ecko records that a southern soul devotee instantly associates with Brinston, O.B. Buchana or Ms. Jody. Written by Raymond Moore and John Ward, who have penned hundreds of like-sounding songs, it nevertheless detours around outright cliche by virtue of its impeccable execution and Brinston's inspired vocal, putting the same listener on notice that even the borderline-trite content on this LP is rendered with fortitude and commitment. That belief in executing detail informs the entire CD. And when David sings--

"Now I'm married to a woman
Who put my love on a shelf.
I didn't want to
But I had to
Find me somebody else..."

--you have the perfect explanation--and the best I've encountered in recent lyrics--why a man is driven to finding a "sidepiece."

SIDEPIECE MOTEL neither avoids the historical David Brinston catalog nor retreads it in banal re-do's. But it does till up familiar ground, so that to a cynically-inclined, onetime Brinston fan, a song like "Southern Soul Party" from the new set can be seen as yet another attempt to bask in the nostalgia of David's justifiably celebrated "Party 'Til The Lights Go Out." But I believe fans will keep returning to "Southern Soul Party," as I did, once the aforesaid commitment to excellence sinks in.

"Southern Soul Party" is self-contained and simple, with an insistent little hook minimized from the old "Party" by composer John Ward, and Brinston brings it off with such insouciance and
southern-soul-insider wit that any thought of "Party" becomes secondary to the "southern soul party" going on right here and right now.

"Sidepiece Motel," the title tune, is fascinating in spite of its melodic familiarity as well. Brinston lets out a "Wooooooo..." near the end of the song that is so intimate it may raise a couple of hairs on your neck.

The album cover art shows a sign emblazoned with "SIDEPIECE MOTEL ("Low Hourly Rate")". Who would come to such suspiciously-named lodgings? Brinston stands underneath, leaning against the motel's front facade. Now where did they shoot that picture? Was it the home of the Louisiana Blues Brothas (and Big Pokey Bear), or was it Adobe photo-shopped? In any case the lyrics remind you of those abortive tourist stays in motels from hell, and let's not even mention the condition of the coverlets.

"You may not have a working TV." (David warns.)
"This ain't no five-star."

David, however, is preoccupied with explaining the "why's" and "where-for's" of one or two-hour trysts at places where--

"If you got your money right
No words will be exchanged."

"She's A Freak" is a re-tuned version of "You're So Freak, Girl" from the classic Brinston album, FLY RIGHT, with "Party 'Til The Lights Go Out (Nothing But A Party)" and "Kick It").

Similarly, this album's "echo" of Brinston's iconic "Kick It," a tune called "I Ain't Goin' Anywhere Tonight," stands on its (modest) own while still relating to the former via its contrarian message. Brinston's vocal here and throughout is inspired. Other songs from the set, like the splendid ballad "I Got You" and the slow-but-steady-rocking "Dance With Me," fit in well.

Who sings like this? Nobody. Strike that. A handful... Robert "The Duke" Tillman. LaMorris Williams, at times. Also young disciple "King" Fred Hicks. Speaking of which, Robert "The Duke" Tillman and David Brinston were peers in the late 90's and early 00's; David's career has been much more productive since then. But if you want to hear David sounding so much like Tillman you'd think it was Tillman (and even more so since we associate Tillman with ballads), listen to "Give Me All Your Love" from this new set by Brinston.

Ecko's track record with publishing David Brinston (approximately 2007-2010) has been mixed. Surely, it never achieved the kind of success both parties envisioned, resulting in a sequence of CD's we associate in retrospect with lone singles (good singles)--"Too Many Women," "Dirty Woman," "Beat It Up," "I Just Love Women"--nevertheless surrounded by a lot of "here-today, gone-tomorrow" material.

SIDEPIECE MOTEL defies all those expectations. Instead of delivering a "knock-out" single and little else--as did past albums--it offers a real, album-like tapestry of music to be enjoyed from beginning to end, a slice-of-life in which no one cut stands head-and-shoulders above the rest (with the possible exception of "I Drinks My Whiskey"), and all are produced to their ultimate fulfillment, with David's vocals providing the crucial fulcrum.

In a very real sense, this new album on Ecko restores Brinston's reputation and unique niche among contemporary southern soul singers as a countrified version of the legendary Al Green. It's one of the highest compliments one can give a southern soul vocalist, but one Brinston richly deserves as he reminds us in track after track what a laser-precise and poignantly-pirouetting vocal instrument can do.

Strong contributors to the CD include Big John Cummings, who did much of the songwriting, and stalwart partners with long Brinston histories, Morris J. Williams and Marshall Jones. Longtime Brinston writer/background singer Linda Stokes isn't listed in the credits, but her background singing--or right-on approximations of it by the Ecko crew of Ward, Cummings, Williams & Terry "Smooth" Johnson--can be heard in "Dance With Me and "She's A Freak".

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy David Brinston's new SIDEPIECE MOTEL CD at Amazon.

************ - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page.

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Jaye Hammer, Last Man Standing, 8-12-17

Sharnette Hyter, Grown Folks Talkin', 8-1-17

Sweet Angel, Can't Walk Away, 7-16-17

El' Willie, The Game Changer, 7-1-17

Big G, Darkest Hour, 6-7-17

David Brinston, Sidepiece Motel, 5-22-17


Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page.



Lady Di, Three Way Love Affair, 5-7-17 (Scroll down this column.)

Joe "Blues" Butler, Full Figured Woman, 4-21-17 (Scroll down this column.)

O.B. Buchana, Swing On With O.B., 4-10-17 (Contained in the O.B. Buchana Artist Guide. Click link.)

Jeter Jones & The Perfect Blend, Trailride Certified, 3-19-17 (Contained in the Jeter Jones Artist Guide. Click link.)

Mr. Sam, Make Time For Her, 3-5-17 (Contained in the Mr. Sam Artist Guide. Click link.)

Stevie J Blues, Back 2 Blues, 2-20-17 (Scroll down this column.)

Various Artists (Ecko), Blues Mix 22 Down South Soul, 2-5-17 (Scroll down this column.)

Stan Butler: Back To Basics, 1-24-17 (Scroll down this column.)

J-Wonn, The Legacy Begins, 12-13-16 (Contained in the J-Wonn Artist Guide. Click link.)

Various Artists (Ross Music Group), Beat Flippa: I Got The Blues Vol. 2, 11-17-16 (Scroll down this column.)


Rating Guide:

Five Stars ***** Can't miss. Pure Southern Soul heaven.

Four Stars **** Distinguished effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.

Two Stars ** Dubious. Not much here.

One Star * A disappointment. Avoid.


May 7, 2017:

LADY DI: Three Way Love Affair (Willie Ray Russell / Hittman Records) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

A little over a year ago, in a review titled "LADY DI: Love Don't Owe Me Nothing (Hittman) Three Stars *** Solid Debut by a New Female Vocalist," I wrote:

...And it might behoove Russell and Caver (Lady Di) at this point in her career to pull together Lady Di's best work--not a "best of" yet, just best--along with two or three strong new tracks for her next collection, hopefully coming in 2016, and really make a definitive statement.

Well, I'll be damned if she and her husband/producer Willie Ray Russell didn't take your Daddy B. Nice's advice. THREE WAY LOVE AFFAIR pulls together everything of worth Lady Di's ever recorded. In spite of publishing four solo albums, Lady Di's gotten “nil” interest in the meantime. Googling her gets you the late Princess Dianna of England, and even southern soul insiders confuse her with Hot Spot Record's Angel Faye Russell, a more technically-powerful singer.

But in a month (May 2017) when I was inundated with good music and could have easily put out two quality Top 10 "Breaking" Southern Soul Singles charts, I derived so much enjoyment from Lady Di's work that I was compelled to make a "statement":

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------MAY 2017-------


"All The Time Grooving" / "Love On The Dance Floor"----Lady Di

Now this is a strain of southern soul (Bobbye Johnson, Gina Brown, Renea Mitchell, Lina) we must not lose. Romantic melodies, pop-friendly arrangements, caressing female vocals. It's so hard to get it just right as "southern soul," but Lady Di does here. From her creatively-produced new album, THREE WAY LOVE AFFAIR.

Di doesn't impress you with her technique, the way--say--similarly young and upcoming singers like Jureesa McBride and Val McKnight do. Instead, she relies on sincerity, emotion and a discerning sense of what appeals.

"All The Time Grooving," first recorded in 2012, is her self-effacing masterpiece and signature anthem. Bolstered by a memorable acoustic guitar riff and a wonderfully-nuanced melody and chorus, the song ages like a choice wine.

Listen to Lady Di singing "All The Time Grooving" on YouTube.

The enthralling "Love Overdrive" also appeared in 2012, on Di's amazing (and completely overlooked) album, GOOD TIME TONIGHT. What impresses is the simplicity and affection conveyed. Both songs are braised in the ambience of good times and love that has never known paranoia.

Listen to Lady Di singing "Love Overdrive" on YouTube.

There are some derivative exercises. “Roll It,” with its Rascals-inspired rhythm track and keyboards, sounds like Quinn Golden’s “Bottoms Up" (which also borrowed from "Groovin'"). "I Came To Party" recycles the Staples Singers' "I'll Take You There," with an overt acknowledgement in the lyrics.

And "Put It All On The Line" reminds me of an old Lynn White song I can't put my finger on. "Where The Party At?"--delivered in an eighty's jock-jam, techno style--is the only song in the set that may cross a "musical" line for typical fans.

But for the most part, the songs roll out with refreshing musculature and variety. Producer Willie Ray Russell is no stranger to hiphop; see the Timbaland-influenced "Love On The Dance Floor". But he also uses his knowledge of R&B--like Ann Peeble's "Can't Stand The Rain"--to make "Love On The Dance Floor" work as southern soul. Listening to the lyrics, you really do remember what it's like to "make love" on the dance floor, or--as is sometimes even better--"lead up to making love" on the dance floor.

And, more often, Di mines a classic riff you can’t readily associate with any particular oldie. The arrangement subsequently kicks in like a booster rocket--for example, the "Summer Madness"-like synthesizer throughout "(It Ain't Easy) Getting Over You."

Listen to Lady Di singing "Getting Over You" on YouTube.

"My Side Of The Bed" and "Three Way Love Affair," the title tune, mine the same, mid-tempo, sweet-spot of southern soul, never intimidating you with histrionics, just insinuating themselves subtly into your memory bank. And there are many more tracks: fourteen in all.

In the end, Lady Di may remind you of so many of the fascinating, mostly one-and-done songstresses of modern southern soul--the Keri's, the Coco's, the Judi Brown Eyes', the Queen Isabella's--who have captured, albeit briefly, the southern soul imagination. The difference with Lady Di is that, like the great Peggy Scott-Adams, who owes her lofty status in the southern soul canon to her collaborator, the legendary writer/producer Jimmy Lewis, Lady Di has her "enabler" in Willie Ray Russell. He brings a lot of mainstream hiphop to these songs, but he also knows and loves his southern soul.

One of the quirks of this album is an elongated silence between tracks; just a second or two of dead space seems like an eternity. But after listening to THREE WAY LOVE AFFAIR a few times, I like the way the long pause “brings down a curtain” and “makes it rise again.” The songs on this album deserve the space, like artworks in a gallery.

It's high time Lady Di copped a "listen". Not technically accomplished per se, THREE WAY LOVE AFFAIR is nevertheless full of great material delivered with conviction and--even harder to find these days--a prevailing flair for romance.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Lady Di's THREE WAY LOVE AFFAIR CD at CD Baby. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

April 23, 2017:

Full Figured Woman (Nikkie Records) Four Stars **** Distinguished Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist.

You may dismiss FULL FIGURED WOMAN too quickly, as I did, on first listen. The lead vocals are obviously the product of a singer with limited resources, as evidenced by a "speaking" style farther simplified and accentuated by hanging onto single notes, sometimes for whole phrases. And when the melody calls for higher notes, you can practically see the singer's Adam's apple bobbing up and down, reaching for the note to avoid being flat. So southern soul fans should be warned that vocal power, passion and technique--the usual signs of a newcomer within the genre--don't apply here.

The artist, Joe "Blues" Butler, is not a newcomer, nor is he a young man. Born in 1944 in Sunflower, the tiniest of hamlets a little north of Indianola (northeast of Leland/Greenville on the famed east-west corridor of Highway #82 through the Mississippi Delta), birthplace of Willie Clayton and so many others, Butler is a seasoned blues practitioner who has recorded a number of CD's on a little-known label out of Memphis, Nikkie Records, apparently incorporated in Tennessee in 2010.

Like Jackson, Mississippi, Memphis is a musical hub with archaeological-like layers of blues and R&B which, the deeper you excavate, yield ever more obscure striations of talent and musical activity--performers and songs unfamiliar to even the most dedicated blues and soul lovers. And just like the first time you heard southern soul, there's a response of delight in something bubbling up from the "underground," where nothing was presumed to exist.

Morris J. Williams, a longtime associate of Memphis' flagship independent label, Ecko Records, and a specialist in ferreting out talent perhaps a little less ready for "prime time" than Ecko's showcase artists (O.B. Buchana, Ms. Jody, etc.), is the producer on this album (with Butler exec'ing). Williams assembled an all-live-instruments session at the Ecko studios with an impressive roster of musicians including one of the renowned Hodges brothers, Leroy, on bass, John Ward (Ecko CEO) on lead guitar, Reginald "Crow" Ectoy on drums, Morris Williams and Curtis Jones on keyboards, along with Beale Street's Dr. Robert "Feelgood" Potts (Sheba's father) on harmonica and no less than three brass-section specialists performing tunes by arguably the best songwriter of the current Memphis scene, John Cummings.

And it is the songs, if one is patient enough to given them time to resonate, that ultimately reveal the treasures of FULL FIGURED WOMAN. That, and the insouciance and humor (he never takes himself too seriously) that Joe "Blues" Butler brings to his otherwise one-dimensional vocal presentations.

The album's title tune, "Full Figured Woman," is a bluesy, eye-winking hymn to "big" women in which the artist extols making love to a "full-figured woman until the cows come home." Solid as it is, "Full Figured Woman" is actually my least favorite of the potential singles on this CD simply because it does mimic the familiar "Ecko sound."

The song that really surprised me--and renewed my interest in exploring the album in more depth--is the second offering, "Looking For My Woman." Here the wit hinted at in "Full Figured Woman" bursts into full flower. And once again, the "woman" has a "waist like a wall / And some big old hips".

Few if any young artists could pull off the "loosey-goosey" nonchalance with which the elder-statesman Butler navigates the funny verses of this account of a just-released ex-con calling up all the Memphis area deejays (Arkansas Red, Bobby O'Jay, etc...), asking if they've seen his woman. ("You wouldn't lie to me / Would'ya, Bobby?")

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------MARCH 2017-------

2. ”Looking For My Woman”----Joe “Blues” Butler

Fresh, rowdy take on the blues. The production is thin and his singing is undisciplined, but Butler’s lighthearted charisma carries the song. The humor is even more apparent in “Looking For My Woman” than in his also-charting “Full-Figured Woman,” the title cut of Butler’s fifth CD on Memphis’ Nikkie Records, and first to be distributed by Memphis’ “major” indie label, Ecko Records, marking his national-distribution debut.

Listen to Joe “Blues” Butler singing “Looking For My Woman” on YouTube.

Much of the credit for this album's depth (beyond the obvious kudos to Joe "Blues" Butler himself) must go to songwriter John Cummings and producer Morris J. Although the songs are steeped in traditional blues, they sound fresh, and are executed with fine detail. Witness the captivating "Sinking In The Blues," in which what sounds like a subtle acoustic guitar, possibly a cymbal and even a piano add a shimmering texture to the velvety keyboard background even as the fiery lead guitar and lead vocal set off fireworks in the foreground. The payoff is great blues authenticity combined with great mood and atmosphere.

"You're My Gold" is, if anything, even more impressive. Again the melody seems like you've heard it before--but where? The background instrumentation sounds like an orchestral string section, and it works. There's a pop music accessibility even as the excellent rhythm section and John Ward guitar stress the sepia-steeped blues. Joe "Blues"' lead vocal, despite all its stated faults, emotes to perfection. If you're "into" the album at this point you're no longer even questioning Butler's vocals.

"Mojo Woman" is a killer of a riff, a mean little blues. The live band sounds like it's in a land of pure ecstasy. With exposure, it too could be a powerful single.

Butler pronounces "Ex Old Lady," another humorous--but bitter--track, "ex ol' lady," which comes off to my ear as "X/O lady" (commanding-officer lady).

"She wanna get back with me." (Joe "Blues" sings) "But that will never be." Which, having been through the marital wars, I find hilarious.

In a different vein, "Young Generation Blues" is a replay of the socially-conscious title track of a former Butler release on Nikkie, YOUNG GENERATION BLUES.

And mouth harp enthusiasts can find Dr. Feelgood Potts in prominence on "40 Acres And A Mule" and "Don't Rush Me," which close out the album. Also watch for the Dylanesque harmonica turn by Potts near the end of "Ex Old Lady."

There are twelve tracks in all, and the worst you can say about any of them is that they're common. The best you can say is that they're fantastic, full of surprises, predominately of the kind that make you smile.

FULL FIGURED WOMAN is blues even a strictly southern-soul fan can love. From the live, "black"-sounding instrumentation to the simultaneously laid-back and feisty lead vocals, the album rocks. So move over, Bishop Bullwinkle. There's a new 70-something "young gun" in town.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Joe "Blues" Butler's new FULL FIGURED WOMAN CD at Amazon. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

February 20, 2017:

STEVIE J. BLUES: Back 2 Blues (Mississippi Delta Records / Stevie J Blues) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.

We lived on a hill when I was a little kid. Across the street was a “basement house,” a bare concrete-block foundation rising three feet above-ground, with a front door entryway protruding like a submarine periscope and a flat shingled roof lending the whole an air of fractured permanence. Many years later, when I returned, the "basement house" was gone, replaced by a full two-story house, but the house I remember will always be the semi-realized, caught-in-time structure from my childhood, with friends I played with bounding up and out of the underground stairs.

These thoughts came to mind while listening to Back 2 Blues, the new album by Jackson, Mississippi's Stevie Johnson. Actually, there have been 3 artist-name increments since 2008—Stevie Jay (2 Sides Of A Man CD), Stevie J (Diversity Project & Unstoppable CD’s), and now Stevie J Blues (Back 2 Blues).

Although he still answers to Stevie J, as he's done his whole life, Stevie now performs as Stevie J Blues so that his fans can distinguish him from Atlanta-based Stevie J (Steven Jordan) of the reality show "Love & Hip Hop: Atlanta." "It's so funny because before 'Love and Hip Hop Atlanta' came out, if you googled 'Stevie J,' my picture would come up," Johnson says. (Now) "Every now and then, somebody will hit me on Facebook and ask me what Joseline (Hernandez) (Jordan's wife) is doing, and I'm like, 'Man, you got the wrong person.'"

See Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Stevie J.

Stevie J’s foundation is his guitar playing. Only listen to the new album's instrumental encore, "Blues By The Bay." He’s considered one of the Delta’s top contemporary pickers--in constant demand for studio work and winner of many regional accolades--but, like that “basement house” of my childhood, Stevie J's “periscope” door to the fans, his claim to “fame,” has been his infrequent--almost accidental--southern soul charting with songs like "Because Of Me” (his best), "Married Girlfriend," “Come Here Party” and “Miss Apple Cheeks.”

I was in a club in the Delta once, listening to a series of conventional southern soul tunes sung live by other artists, unmoved from my chair, when Stevie J started singing the New Orleans-flavored “Miss Apple Cheeks.” I could not stay in my seat. The urge was irresistable. I lept up, drifted onto the floor (around Stevie, who was dancing with a woman from the audience) and started dancing by myself, something I hadn’t done in twenty years, and was soon joined by a female stranger and a floor full of couples. So I can attest first-hand to the seductiveness of Stevie's southern soul.

The title Back 2 Blues indicates it's a blues album, but that's not strictly the case. In fact, the set begins with a song, “Lil’ Mo Love,” that harks back to the social consciousness of Marvin Gaye's landmark "What's Going On" album. Excepting "Lil' Mo Love," however, BACK 2 BLUES is an album tailored to the traditional blues fans more than southern soul fans and chitlin’ circuit clubbers.

His website justifiably touts Stevie's unique ability to both "play the Blues and Southern Soul music authentically and accurately," and goes on to say "his eclectic ability to systematically play two different genres of music has morphed into the ‘Stevie J Sound.’”

That, I think, goes a little too far. A full-blown, successful ‘Stevie J sound’ would imply, for example, a berth on the currently ongoing “big-boys” Blues Is Alright Tour, alongside Theodis Ealey and Sir Charles Jones and T.K. Soul, not to mention relative newcomers like Tucka, Big Pokey Bear and Bishop Bullwinkle. It would imply a "full-house" booking and touring schedule.

Which raises the question. By being “eclectic,” is Stevie J hampering his own brand as a southern soul performer? Why, for example, would Stevie emasculate the most powerful song on this set, a tightly-wound bar blues called “I Ain’t Getting That,” by leaving off the word “Shit”? The omission deprives the song of meaning and power. Nor has Stevie promoted it as a single. Why record it, only to disown it?

Yes, in some circles, the four-letter word is contemptible. But it’s also the kind of thing that makes a brand. Ask Pokey or Bullwinkle or Bigg Robb. In retrospect your Daddy B. Nice was clearly out of tune with the intent and nature of the album (which I hadn't yet heard) when I printed the four letter word in my...

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------DECEMBER 2016-------

7. "I Ain't Gettin' That Shit"-----Stevie J. Blues

Welcome to southern soul punk rock. I can't imagine fans NOT dancing to this steamrolling slice of blues. From Stevie J's newest, Back 2 Blues.

Listen to Stevie J. singing "I Ain't Gettin' That" on YouTube

Stevie didn't reply when asked if the word, hard to make out even on the recording, was "shit." It’s well-known (locally) that Stevie is the son of a preacher, the brother of a preacher, and a man of character--a man, in other words, unlike the good-for-nothing, responsibility-shirking narrator of Stevie's most memorable hit, "Because Of Me.” And isn't that the way it's always been for southern soul musicians--that kind of yin and yang?

In “Stranger In The City,” a gospel track from Stevie’s new album, Dr. M.J. Johnson (Stevie's brother, in fact) begins sanctifying with the intro: “I don’t know who’s listening to this…” and I wonder, likewise, who is listening to this CD—-or more to the point—-who's the intended audience? The gospel fans? The traditional blues fans? The southern soul fans? By trying to appeal to so many bases, does Stevie J risk failing to capture any?

Although Bobby Rush-—Stevie’s mentor-—has done just that. Doing blues one album, doing southern soul the next. Also, Theodis Ealey. But Rush and Ealey climbed the rungs of fame by being outrageous, and Stevie hasn’t shown the stomach for that. Fear of ostracism--the ordinary man's kryptonite--the potential real-life shunning by church-going family and peers--may have stranded Stevie J in a kind of southern-soul, bad-boy, career paralysis. (One every southern soul star has had to deal with.)

Listen to Marvin Sease singing "I'm Mr. Jody" on YouTube.

The preparation for this album began in early 2015, possibly triggered by the album's then-and-still best track, a B.B. King-styled ballad written by Omar Cunnningham, who also contributed background vocals. "Another Jody Song" charted here in April of 2015. Thoroughly traditional, the song nevertheless has its own peculiar originality.

Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Review For. . .

-------APRIL 2015---------

7. "Another Jody Song"-----Stevie J.

More great blues from Jackson, Mississippi's own Stevie Johnson. Written and co-produced (along with Stevie) by the ubiquitous Omar Cunningham, and promoted by Pete Peterson (Bobby Jonz, Chuck Roberson, etc.).

"Son Of A Sanctified Preacher" is a Hooker-like talking blues, and talk Stevie does for six minutes, relating a detailed and fascinating account of connecting with his father over a blues guitar. Only time will tell whether the six-minute "story" wears well.

"Lights Out" is another notable cut, although it's easy to overlook. The ballad showcases Stevie singing with the raspy, vulnerable quality that made "Because Of Me" memorable, and has a similarly atmospheric instrumental wash. It reminds you of where Stevie could go if he wanted to pursue more of a southern soul trajectory. His vocals do seem to emote better over slow tempos.

But there are no signature cuts you'd expect from a southern soul album, and excluding Omar Cunningham's "That Jody Song" and Stevie's "I Ain't Getting That--", not even any original compositions of note. You're either appreciative of the execution of the "eclectic" blues exercises therein or you aren't.

Without a doubt, Stevie J does the best with the material at hand, and the homegrown family talent is plentiful. "Stranger In The City" features gospel singer Dwayne Watkins and the preaching of Dr. M.J. Johnson. "Come See Me" showcases the mouth harp of Scott Albert Johnson. All-live horns and saxes enliven "That Party Song" and the big-band swing of "Cradle Robber."

But still...Promoting the big-band sound of "Cradle Robber" as the #2 single from the album? In doing so, Stevie may be trying to emulate the success of guitar-blues-playing youngsters like Grady Champion, Jarekus Singleton and Mr. Sipp, who have readily made inroads with the lucrative national and international “white-blues” audience.

But does this mean Stevie J. is turning his back on the southern soul audience? And is this wishful thinking on Stevie J's part? To think his "eclectic" blues is going to capture the imagination of the contemporary southern soul audience? At this late date, it's still not clear how Stevie J. means to build the "full house" of his brand. There are only so many light-hearted and contagious hits on the order of "Come Here Party" to be sprinkled into a single career.

And although it's only the latest in a series of albums that have hopscotched from blues to southern soul and back to blues again, Back 2 Blues may tell the tale of whether Stevie J. is destined to become a well-mannered studio musician/straight-blues practitioner or the controversial southern soul act hinted at by original hits like "Because Of Me."

Back 2 Blues indicates the former, a career of covering the blues, a mission of preservation. But we don't really know. Stevie could still spring a wicked southern soul album on us. There's still that much mystery, that much untapped potential. We lovers of southern soul are still waiting for Stevie J to stop playing peek-a-boo from his blues-foundation periscope and reveal his true "upper stories".

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Stevie J Blues' BACK 2 BLUES CD at Amazon.

Sample/Buy Stevie J Blues' BACK 2 BLUES CD at iTunes. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

February 5, 2017:

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Blues Mix 22: Down Home Soul (Ecko) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.

It's an impressive list of artists: Ms. Jody (2 songs), O.B. Buchana, David Brinston, Luther Lackey, Jaye Hammer, Mr. Sam, Donnie Ray, Sheba Potts-Wright and Quinn Golden, with a couple of newcomers thrown in. Jaye Hammer’s bubbly “Trail Ride” kicks off Ecko Records’ newest sampler, Blues Mix 22: Down South Soul. The remix doesn’t change much of the song (to my relief), giving the chorus a little more prominence, perhaps with club-dancing in mind. Hammer’s vocal and the infectious button accordion instrumentation remain as they were on the original (Daddy B. Nice’s Best Out-Of-Left-Field Song of 2016), bolstering the rhythm track once again with a champagne-popping buoyancy.

And congratulations to Jaye Hammer for being the first artist in memory to place a hit single--the "cozy marriage of southern soul power and zydeco enthusiasm" that is “Trail Ride” --on near-consecutive Ecko samplers. "Trail Ride" made its first appearance on last year's Blues Mix 19: Total Southern Soul.

“They Were Gone” is a new tribute ballad by O.B. Buchana, although the concept (a remembrance of southern soul’s greatest departed stars) has become somewhat overused and timeworn. I’m of two minds about these types of “commemorative” songs. On the one hand, I’ve heard way too many of them over the years, which makes “They Were Gone” seem a little…well, gratuitous. On the other hand, I’m an insider, and 99.9% of the listening audience probably feels the way I did when I wasn’t an insider. Grateful, that is, for the memories of the great artists and the continuing celebration of their lineage in contemporary song. Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Bobby Womack, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, J. Blackfoot, Marvin Sease, Jackie Neal, Mel Waiters and Reggie P. are among the notables cited.

Donnie Ray’s “I’m Going Back” recycles the title tune of Aldredge’s 2012 album of the same name, and it just might make you sit back, amazed at how good Donnie Ray sounds when he’s on his game.

“Make Time For Her,” a new ballad by Mr. Sam ( aka composer Sam Fallie), is the title tune of his just-released album of the same name. The melody, arrangement and vocal combine to make a gorgeous-sounding experience. The mid-song voice-over also works well, giving the tune an effective and impactful simplicity.

“Energizer Bunny” is one of the most popular tunes from 2008’s I NEVER TAKE A DAY OFF album, in which Ms. Jody complains vociferously about her over-sexed mate (O.B. Buchana does a brief cameo) seriously stressing her “kitty”. The song does survive its mixed metaphors. And Ms. Jody's ”I Don’t Backtrack,” from 2006’s WHAT YOU GONNA DO WHEN THE RENT IS DUE, may sound "fresh" to most listeners (it did to me), being one of the most obscure tracks from her catalog.

Sheba Potts-Wright’s “Don’t Get Yours Before I Get Mine” is a piece of history from Sheba’s 2006 Ecko album BIG HAND MAN, while “When This Dance Is Over” recycles the late Quinn Golden’s title tune from his 2004 Ecko album WHEN THE DANCE IS OVER. David Brinston’s “You Caught Me With My Drawers Off” is a tune from his DIRTY WOMAN album (2009), showcasing David in fine vocal form, while Luther Lackey’s “I Don’t Care Who’s Getting It,” takes us back to his hit-laden but unfortunately unsuccessful Ecko album, Married Lyin’ Cheatin’ Man.

“Full Figured Woman” features a new bluesy singer named Joe Butler, and “Keep This On The Low” marks the Ecko debut of a deserving but little-known singer/songwriter named King Fred (aka Frederick Hicks). Fred has been charting at Southern Soul RnB since 2013, most memorably for the tune ”When I Think Of You,” in which--in the most exquisite, sepia-drenched verses--Fred sounds like he's singing about love through a weathered old man's vocal cords.

As a set, Blues Mix 22: Down South Soul is interesting for its individual tracks, which frequently shine, but as a collection the set lacks the cohesion and unifying theme that distinguish Ecko's finest compilations.

--Daddy B. Nice

Buy Blues Mix 22: Down South Soul at Best Buy. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

January 24, 2017:

STAN BUTLER: Back To Basics (Stantavio Butler / Stan Butler Productions) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort by a New Southern Soul Artist.

The story of Stan Butler's rise from "a complete unknown" to Daddy B. Nice's Best Southern Soul Debut Of The Year should hearten the spirits of any musical aspirant across the chitlin' circuit. First, as noted in my first charting for Stan Butler in June of 2016, deejays and critics don't just wait for product to come to them. They also beat the bushes in search of that "new thang." That's how, while hacking through the YouTube musical jungle, I came upon...

2. "Tootie Boot"------Stan Butler

Here's another choice cut from an unknown artist who's never contacted your Daddy B. Nice. Also check out his first official video: "I Took My Grandma To The Club."

Listen to Stan Butler singing "Tootie Boot" on YouTube.

Shortly thereafter, still in June, I heard from Stan Butler, and received a package with three or four copies of BACK TO BASICS. I told him I wouldn't review the CD until, at the least, he posted it on CD Baby for distribution. And although declining to interview him (which "Soul Dog" Neal Furr subsequently did a fine job of doing anyway), I told Stan to work on his music--that I only wanted to relate to that. It was the music I wanted to excite me. And, wow, did he come through--three successive singles as follows:

-------JULY 2016---------

5. "Third Of The Month"------ Stan Butler

A rhythm guitarist's dream. Extraordinary confidence and expertise from such a neophyte singer/songwriter. Kinda weird, though, a young'un taking up the cause of the social-security crowd. Hope it's not patronization--and I don't think it is. Profiled this month on Southern Soul Corner With The "Soul Dog" Neal Furr.

Listen to Stan Butler singing "Third Of The Month" on YouTube.


Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------SEPTEMBER 2016---------

2. "Take Me To The Bootlegger"------ Stan Butler

A true outsider (Georgia) as yet unfamiliar with southern soul's deejay circuit, this young man is the real thing, a writer/performer of great promise, and he's getting better with each new record. This is his third appearance here in four months. "Bootlegger" has the scope and lyricism of a classic. Write for service.

Listen to Stan Butler singing "Take Me To The Bootlegger" on YouTube.


Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .

-------NOVEMBER 2016-------

1. ”Preacher Was A Home Wrecker”-----Stan Butler

Like the young Bob Dylan, like the young Sir Charles Jones, the young Stan Butler is on an artistic “roll” so pure and unstoppable it’s a joy to behold. I’m not comparing Stan to these greats, just drawing attention to his seemingly inexhaustible creativity, because when I say “on a roll” I mean a song a month, not a song a year. Only a handful of recording artists achieve this kind of sequential inspiration, and only for a brief period.

Listen to Stan Butler singing ”Preacher Was A Home Wrecker” on YouTube.

Meanwhile, back at Quent Jackson's Big Baby Studios in the Macon suburbs, where Butler had recorded the tunes for Back To Basics, Stan's growing local profile had landed him a gig as the opening act for a Macon appearance of Cameo, requiring a live band. As with the CD distribution, the necessities of the music business had heeded the call of Stan Butler's talent, not the other way around, and Butler hooked up with a John Mills-managed group called The Unit, performing in front of an audience of three-thousand.

It's not easy to pinpoint the wellspring of Butler's talent. He's a humble-looking and humble-sounding young man, with an average voice (for an R&B star), and production still blemished with amateurish tics and musical spaces crying out for detail. And yet, the talent cannot be denied. It's difficult not to keep listening to a Stan Butler song. Reality, in all its sensory glory, is emoted.

I was anticipating a three-star ("solid") critique for Back To Basics, which Butler finally got around to offering for sale on CD Baby not long ago. After all, it only has two of the songs mentioned above, "Tootie Boot" and "Took My Grandma To The Club." Everything else--the bulk of the great music quoted above--has come since then, making the album almost obsolete before it hits the market. Surely, the next album will be much better--the breakthrough, if you will.

But I came away surprised by Back To Basics. With only seven full tracks, the set yet has a undeniable fullness, and the other five tracks (with the exception of one, "Woman Must Be Cheating," which has the same rhythm track as "Took My Grandma To The Club") are not just throw-away's.

"Respect Your Woman" lacks the definition of a focused songwriter, but "Got Me A Woman" (with Ron G.) is a superb composition, with a melody that sinks the hook and pulls the listener along for five pleasurable minutes.

"Caught Up," too, is a fine piece of songwriting, with an interesting arrangement and the kind of special but somehow still "everyman"-like vocal that we have come to expect from Butler. Listening to "Caught Up," you can make out the song structure Stan would later bring to the spectacular "Preacher Was A Home Wrecker."

"Trust Me, Baby" (featuring Yale), has a chitlin' circuit-friendly couplet:

"Every time I take off my clothes,
You're smelling my drawers."

Butler asks his lover to "let him go" if she "don't trust me no more." A seductive bass line and a rap verse are only two of the musical elements that make the song memorable.

Taken as a whole, and combined with the more well-known "Tootie Boot" and "Took My Grandma To The Club," the songs of BACK TO BASICS constitute a satisfying if short set. Nothing compared to what's coming next from Stan Butler, though. Can hardly wait.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Stan Butler's BACK TO BASICS at CD Baby. - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

November 17, 2016:

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Beat Flippa: I Got The Blues Vol. 2 (Music Access/Ross Music) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

I was about to write that, despite a bounteous, Thanksgiving-sized helping of new music (a generous fifteen tracks vs. sixteen on the first Beat Flippa sampler), nothing jumps off the liner credits of Volume Two like Volume One's "My Sidepiece" by Big Pokey Bear. The trouble with that comparison is Pokey's new southern soul classic didn't appear on I Got The Blues Vol. 1. It graced The Louisiana Blues Brothers Love On The Bayou a year earlier.

Regardless of whether "My Sidepiece" debuted on Beat Flippa Volume 1, the album was a powerhouse in the Deep South, a cultural earth-shaker and a creative game-changer for contemporary southern soul music and the way the genre is produced, dropping a slew of new artists (headlined by Pokey) on a southern soul audience hungry for new sounds.

The single that woulda/coulda/shoulda been this album's "Sidepiece" was Cold Drank's "Three." In a September 2016 interview featured on Daddy B. Nice's Corner, "Three" producer Heavy, the original composer of "My Sidepiece," told your Daddy B. Nice:

"I don't do business with Beat Flippa (any more). I'm not discrediting him, but I wasn't happy with him doing the "My Sidepiece Reply" on YouTube, the one with the women (Veronica Ra'elle, Lacee, Ms. Portia), without talking to me."

But the end result, I fear, was a loss for all parties, on the one hand Beat Flippa, whose Vol. 2 CD otherwise lacks a showcase single on the order of "My Sidepiece," and on the other hand Heavy and Cold Drank, whose "Three" may never benefit from the much wider exposure and retail sales the single would have garnered on I Got The Blues: Volume Two.

Listen to Cold Drank singing "Three" on YouTube.

Any follow-up to Beat Flippa's Vol. 1, with exceptional anthems like "T.G.I.F.," (Pokey, Vince Hutchinson & Adrian Bagher), "The Best You Ever Had" (Rosalyn Candy, Veronica Ra'elle), "If It Ain't The Blues" (Pokey Bear, Cupid) and "Let's Do It" (Adrian Bagher, Big Cynthia, Veronica Ra'elle), was bound to be something of a disappointment by comparison.

And songs like Laylla Fox's "I Taste Like Candy," Rosalyn Candy's Let's Get The Business Clear" and Miss Portia's "Use What I Got" from the new CD lack not only the surprise factor but some of the outstanding musicality of the first collection, relying on simplistic and repetitive hooks.

Meanwhile, in spite of their obvious merits, tracks one would anticipate to be sure-fire successes, such as L.J. Echols'"Is It True" or the Louisiana Blues Brotha's "Naked," are under-stated to an almost off-putting extent, lacking some of the indefinable energy and enthusiasm of Volume 1.

Which is not to say Volume 2 doesn't deliver an ample share of great music. Stand-out tracks, executed with the freshness and originality we've come to expect from Beat Flippa, include:

Napoleon Demps' "Ol' School Love"

Big Cynthia’s ”Come Saddle Up”

Sharnette Hyter's "I'm Classy"

Lady Soul's "Tighten Up"

Jeter Jones' and Crystal Thomas' "Them Country Girls"


Nicole Jackson's "What You Gone Do For Me."

These and other tunes from the new sampler sparkle with all the special, atmospheric production touches evident in Vol. 1: the signature organ fills that run like "deep waters" through the entire set, the spacious but appropriately spare use of the zydeco accordion and the crystal-clear mixing. And not to be forgotten: the yoga-supple guitar work of Tyree Neal, whose picking is evolving and maturing into a sophistication we haven't seen in southern blues and soul since Theodis Ealey and, of course, B.B. King.

Listen to Tyree Neal's guitar on Napoleon Demps "Ol' School Love."

While I Got The Blues: Volume Two may lack some of the impact and overall consistency of Volume 1, it's still music to fill any righteous southern soul fan's day with pleasure, energy and intimacy.

--Daddy B. Nice

Sample/Buy Beat Flippa's I GOT THE BLUES VOL. 2 at Amazon.

Sample/Buy Beat Flippa's I GOT THE BLUES VOL. 2 at iTunes.

Listen to samples from "Beat Flippa I Got The Blues Vol 2 Promo pt 1".

Listen to samples from "Beat Flippa I Got The Blues Vol 2 Promo pt 2".

Listen to samples from "Beat Flippa I Got The Blues Vol 2 Promo pt 3".

*********** - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

Send product to:
P.O. Box 19574
Boulder, Colorado 80308


Send product to:
P.O. Box 19574
Boulder, Colorado 80308


********** - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

Send product to:
P.O. Box 19574
Boulder, Colorado 80308




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