June 18, 2018:
C-Wright: I Bluez Myself (Total-Impaq Muzik) Two Stars ** Dubious Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist. Not much here. A well-conceived and executed album by an obviously talented young performer, I Bluez Myself arrived in the mail a year ago and was bypassed for review due to its overwhelmingly urban-radio orientation. Your Daddy B. Nice's recollection is of going over this "rejection" with the artist, Louisianan Chris Wright, via e-mail at the time, but with the volume of submissions received I may be mistaken. At any rate, C-Wright is nothing if not persistent, and I Bluez Myself is once again upon my desk.
When it comes to CD reviews of late, my desk (and my CD Reviews page) seems like a garden that requires constant weeding. It's hot, sweaty labor. I'm a southern soul man. All of my reviews are written from the point of view of southern soul advocacy. I'm weeding-out urban radio, and it's a never-ending battle. With the explosive growth of interest in southern soul among the young has come a flood of product with roots no longer in gospel.
I can listen to C-Wright's I Bluez Myself--which is quite generous, by the way, some nineteen tracks--for a good while because the music is acquitted with energy, creativity and expertise. But there comes a point--say, fifteen, twenty minutes in--when I suddenly stop and say, "Wait. This is music I could hear on any big-city radio in the country. And now, just like twenty years ago, I'm still interested in the music that's NOT on big-city radio. The music that's too real--too immediate, too humble--for the "smooth" and "lite," faux-sophisticated city folk. So why am I listening to this?"
And then I return to rough-hewn (call it crude if you want to), powerful southern soul--Annie Washington's "Show Pony," for example, #2 on Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 Singles this month--and in three minutes all of C-Wright's urban music with its "smooth" conventions blows away like so much fluff. Due to its familiarity or commercialism (or both), the "lite" and "smooth" R&B (or funk or hiphop or techno) just doesn't make an impression. And that impacts many of the artists reviewed recently on this page, beginning with C-Wright: Mo' B, Uncle Wayne, Napoleon Demps, Black Diamond, Ms. Genii and Solomon Thompson, to name only a few.
In many cases, these artists know how to do southern soul. They just don't want to do southern soul. Their musical styles make it all too obvious they don't listen to Marvin Sease, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnnie Taylor, Nellie "Tiger" Travis or Ms. Jody. They want to do their own thing--all fine and good--except why bring it to the southern soul market, distracting from the many young artists with southern soul bona fides trying to make names for themselves?
There are exceptions to urban radio in the set, but very few. C-Wright's "Operator," his first popular chitlin' circuit single, is classically simple in a way sure to be snubbed by urban radio and all the more loved by southern soul fans for its immediacy and humility. Hell, it's even got the "cheesy programmed horns" flaw of southern soul I've railed about for many years. Yet, in this context, the "cheesy" horns are yet another sign C-Wright knows how to do southern soul but won't.
There's another exception. "Mr. Good Thang," like "Operator" well-received in southern soul enclaves, has a credibility and accessibility (not to mention a hook and a melody) that will appeal to most southern soul fans. Granted, it has more urban than rural conventions (think Jeff Floyd), but it's at least a borderline product, conducive to both musical camps.
"I'm Sorry" begins with a promising southern soul-like, horn line but gradually dissolves into a more "city" sound with a northern-soul, street-corner, acapella emphasis. More typical is the blatant urban champagne of "Fifty-fifty," which is about as far from Bobby Rush and Denise LaSalle and "da" Bluez as one gets.
"Wonderful" may be the ultimate litmus test for the southern soul fan. It has melody, pace and a good vocal. Has C-Wright finally found a successful blending of his hiphop/urban style with the southern soul ear? I'll leave that for the reader to decide (click the link). The decision may be as difficult as mine in giving any album with this much musical firepower only two stars, which seems to fly in the face of the artist's ample brilliance.
There is reason for hope, however. And, in fact, it was the "tipping point" in my decision to write this critique. C-Wright has a new single out, "Main Squeeze". Unfortunately, it's not on the album, which came out in 2017. But it is bona fide southern soul. The choruses and harmonies sound southern. It's closest to "Operator" of any song C-Wright has recorded.
Not only that. I dug up another new C-Wright single on YouTube. "Tickle Box" just came out and it, too, is solid southern soul. The emphasis is on the song, not the technique. The vocals are "southern," whatever that is. You either know it or you don't. You might say C-Wright has integrated his roots seamlessly into southern soul on this single. There's even a Barbara Lewis trailer, and it works. Unbelievable. Maybe this album, with its preponderance of mainstream/smooth/hiphop mannerisms, will prove to be C-Wright's turnstile into true southern soul.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy C-Wright's I BLUEZ MYSELF CD at Amazon.
Buy C-Wright's new single, "Main Squeeze," at Amazon.
June 6, 2018:
SOLOMON THOMPSON: Good Damn Music (Golden Choice Records) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy. Solomon Thompson began his southern soul career in 2012. A hiphop single called "Fullah Hundreds" missed the mark entirely. By the end of the year, however, Thompson was making progress with southern soul songs, the tentative "Hard Tonight" and the more promising "Let's Do It". His first full-length southern soul album, History, arrived in 2014. The album's music was written and produced by Solomon's musical sidekick, Ronald ("Ron G") Suggs and included the catchy "Neighbor," a funny take on noisy neighbors, and "One Big Party" and "Time 2 Party (Let's Get It Started)," the dance jams that finally brought the oddly-casual-sounding tenor to the attention of the chitlin' circuit.
A couple of singles ("Mardi Gras" and "Some Football") as well as a dubious detour into urban R&B, the three-song EP All About You, followed without much notice. Now Solomon's back with his second southern soul album, once again accompanied by Ron G., and although the credits make it seem like a full-length CD (the list is padded with a "Greeting," "Intermission" and "Fini") the remaining seven tracks make Good Damn Music seem more like an ample EP with an album "feel".
Old-schoolers won't find much to interest them here. The younger club audience should take notice, though. You can dance to it. You can even get a little crazy to it. Lyrically, Thompson is a party animal. You get the impression he'd like to take Kool & The Gang's "Celebration" through an I.V. every morning before breakfast. There's even a tune called "Celebration" on the album, which--along with the sentimental "Birthday," "Champagne" and "Feel For You"--comprise a mawkish quartet of music closer to pure pop and creamy-smooth, urban R&B than southern soul.
Which leaves three tunes that really rock in the way Solomon Thompson's fans have come to expect. This trio of dance jams dominate the set and illustrate the successful formula Solomon and Ron G have used to create the "Solomon Thompson" sound: a kind of layered, electronic dance music, with insistent, blender-smooth, rhythm tracks balanced with catchy hooks and Thompson's simple yet effective vocals, full of effortless energy, a deceptive but captivating diffidence and colorful hints of humor.
Listen to Solomon Thompson singing "Bang" on YouTube.
Listen to Solomon Thompson singing "Wanna Party" on YouTube.
Listen to Solomon Thompson singing "Say Ooh" on YouTube.
It's not an exaggeration to say these three jams make the album, whether you want to buy the full CD (whose other seven cuts bask in the good will generated) or just the mp3's. To sample all, go to Solomon Thompson's "Good Damn Music Album Preview" on YouTube.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Solomon Thompson's Good Damn Music album at iTunes.
Buy Solomon Thompson's Good Damn Music album at CD Baby.
May 20, 2018:
VARIOUS ARTISTS: Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul With A Twist (Prodigee Records) One Star * A disappointment. Avoid. Any southern soul music lover is bound to be depressed (if not shocked, enraged or at least confused) by this so-called “southern soul” sampler, Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul With A Twist. Depressed, first of all, by the music, a mess of tentative and dilettantish soul, funk and rap. Depressed, more importantly, by the hubris of Napoleon Demps in daring to call this mish-mash of styles “southern soul”. Depressed, finally, that fellow northerners would take it for such, when it's just more of the national/urban pablum everyone (outside of the South) thinks is current R&B.
You can see why southern soul would have trouble “making inroads” in the North if this is what they’re being led to believe is southern soul. And this is why I have long argued that you couldn’t just call southern soul music “soul,” as some worthy advocates like Vick Allen always argued. You had to call it “southern soul” because it IS different, with its own identity. And "soul" music can mean anything and everything, as this set attests. But what has always puzzled your Daddy B. Nice is why a recording artist would want to label himself a "southern soul genre" artist, while not being in love with (and actively using) the genre's musical conventions?
Napoleon Demps is from Flint, Michigan. If I remember right, so was Simeo (producer name Simeo Overall), who was much more talented but essentially did the same thing during his early career as Napoleon is doing now, in Simeo’s case foisting hiphop on the audience as “southern soul” with relentless tenacity when it was nothing of the sort. Simeo later hooked up with the late Floyd Taylor, Johnnie’s most talented son, and together they came up with a compelling, hiphop-southern soul hybrid sound, ”I’m ‘Bout It, ‘Bout It”. Too bad we couldn’t have seen the future fruits of that collaboration. But make no mistake: with Floyd Taylor and Simeo, we're talking about music on a far more sophisticated level than transpires here.
The songs on Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul With A Twist don't deserve mention because there's nothing in the southern soul vein and there's nothing you haven't heard before--and done better--perhaps as Muzak coming through a paper mache' speaker in an elevator. The impression is of a bunch of well-meaning but clueless young Northerners playing at--and in the majority of cases kidding themselves about--being "southern soul".
If this sampler is any indication, Napoleon either isn't into southern soul or doesn't know what southern soul music is. If he does know (which would mean he's really cynical), he evidently believes he's entitled to use the term to sell any music of any style, whatsoever.
The only truly southern soul song in this compilation is Ra'Shad's "Saddle Up". and it sticks out like an ostrich neck. You can imagine someone listening to what they think is "southern soul with a twist" and suddenly getting clubbed in the head by "Saddle Up." What the hell is this? It's southern soul, fella. Wake up, girl! But the high is brief, about three minutes.
Listen to Ra'Shad The Blues Kid, Napoleon Demps & Jassup Lashawn Crosby singing "Saddle Up" on YouTube.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Napoleon Demps' Various Artists: Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul with a Twist at Amazon.
Listen to tracks from Various Artists: Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul with a Twist on YouTube.
See Daddy B. Nice’s Artist Guide to Napoleon Demps.
May 12, 2018:
VARIOUS ARTISTS (ECKO): Blues Mix 24: Party Soul Blues. Two Stars ** Dubious. Not much here. Pictured: Val McKnight
The 24th installment in this long-running and respected series of southern soul samplers is one of the most forgettable. Among the highlights, however, are new versions of Val McKnight's "It's Party Time," which debuted on Blues Mix 19, and a John Ward re-mix of Quinn Golden's classic, "Dance Party".
Listen to Val McKnight & Ms. Jody singing "It's Party Time" on SoundCloud.
Listen to Quinn Golden singing "Dance Party (Remix)" on YouTube.
A third track, Donnie Ray's "It's Just A Party Thing," a similar, mid-tempo gem from Aldredge's middle period, might have upgraded this compilation from "dubious" to "solid" if positioned in the track list next to "Dance Party" and "It's Party Time," making a trifecta of listening enjoyment hard to criticize. But it's not, and the rest of the song offerings on Blues Mix 24, Party Soul Blues haven't much to recommend them. That is to say, the song selections are neither strong enough to turn heads among potential new fans nor obscure enough to satisfy die-hard fans who probably already have the music--or are too familiar with it to really appreciate it.
As per the series' long-running formula, the balance of the set is divided between previously-released oddities (I say "oddities" because none classified as "hits" upon their initial releases) and original recordings by new artists.
There is one exception, a "taste" of O.B. Buchana's new work in the form of an O.B. cover of a Sonny Mack tune, "Get On Up," which had been published in a Blues Mix #21 sampler a couple of years earlier. In a twist of fate, the uber-talented Buchana's version of "Get On Up" lacks some of the charm of the original Sonny Mack release, and in any case, Buchana fans would be much better served buying O.B.'s 5-star-rated Parking Lot Love Affair album (see the review elsewhere this page), which contains "Get On Up" and much, much more first-rate, original Buchana material.
The "previously released oddities" are represented by esteemed, turn-of-the-century artists Bill Coday ("Hoochie Dance") and Barbara Carr ("Y'All Know How To Party") and more recent crowd-pleasers Jaye Hammer ("Mississippi Slide") and Sweet Angel ("Back It Up and Slow Roll It").
As for the "new," the debut of the PCB Band left this reviewer unfazed, although it reminded me to warn Northerners that what is called "blues" in the North is not what is called "blues" in the South. And other than her relationship with Mr. Sam, I have no idea why talented newcomer Ms. Genii plies a southern soul career path. Her music is "funk", not "southern soul," and at this point in time, funk is still a more lucrative (easier to get gigs, etc.) professional path. In the context of the sampler, Genii's two contributions ("Like A Cowboy," "Be Careful What You Ask For") set a hard-edged, urban-sounding note of discordance that sinks any hope Blues Mix 24 has of achieving a cohesive atmosphere.
If you're wondering what a compilation with "cohesive atmosphere" might sound like, pick up the great Ecko sampler, Blues Mix Vol. 17: Dirty Soul Blues. And in addition to buying three or four mp3's of the songs under review, your Daddy B. Nice recommends sampling the Ecko Records website, which contains an entire page devoted to the totality of their compilations.
Go to Ecko Records' website, click "Featured Artists," scroll down to bottom of page and click "Ecko Records Compilations".
--Daddy B. Nice
Pictured: Sweet Angel
Buy Blues Mix 24, Party Soul Blues at Amazon.
April 21, 2018:
KING FRED: Soul 2 Soul (King Fred / Riverside Records ) Four Stars **** Distinguished effort. Should please old fans and gain new. King Fred, aka Frederick Hicks, was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. His first album, Going Crazy (CD Baby 2011), self-published at a very early age under the name Frederick Hicks, spawned at least three underground tracks that caught the attention of southern soul insiders--"Morning Delight," "When I Think Of You" and "Should Have Made You My Wife"--and Hicks was a nominee for "Best Debut" and "Best Vocalist" in Daddy B. Nice's annual Southern Soul Music Awards (2013).
Hicks' new album, Soul 2 Soul, published under the name King Fred, features a series of singles Hicks recorded from 2014 through 2017: "You Need Two," "So Glad," "I'll Be Your Freak," "Body Rock" and "Down In The Club," the latter charting as high as #2 in Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "Breaking" Southern Soul Singles in March 2018.
...2. "Down In The Club"-------King Fred
From his new album, Soul 2 Soul, King Fred's "Down In The Club" is a remarkable piece of songwriting and production, highlighted by a lovely, African-tinged chorus line. Fred's vocal, in which each phrase seems to be half-swallowed and regurgitated as an ancient man's wisdom, is typically superb and off-the-chain.
Listen to King Fred Hicks singing "Down In The Club" on YouTube.
In a top King Fred song there's mystery, there's weirdness, there's singularity and lifelike originality, as if the Deity himself delivered the song, touching his celestial index finger to Fred's ear in the middle of a night's slumber. On the "CD Baby Buy Album" page for Soul 2 Soul, there is a section called "Recommended If You Like..." under which King Fred lists two influences, David Brinston and Frank Mendenhall, two of the most idiosyncratic singers in the genre. How apt and informative--a sign that there's as much hard work, calculation and perspiration behind Fred's vocals as there is inspiration. It's a one-of-a-kind style--like Brinston, even more like Mendenhall.
Listen to Frederick Hicks singing "When I Think Of You" on YouTube.
Listen to Frank Mendenhall singing "Party With Me Tonight" on YouTube.
There's a song on the new album, "Dipping In My Pudding," that is actually a holdover from Hicks' debut, Going Crazy. It charted in April 2018, not least because its sound (even the programmed horns) reminded me of "When I Think Of You" and what an out-sized impression it made upon me. Likewise its "sibling" track, describing a "quickie"--well, maybe not so quick--in the morning:
Listen to Frederick Hicks singing "Morning Delight" on YouTube.
These songs from the first album shine even brighter in the afterglow cast by this new CD, which is more mature and consistent but not as brilliant. What the best of the new set (like the mesmerizing "Down In The Club") has in common with those first-album gems is the anonymous, wondrously-rooted, charmingly-modest, lovingly-scripted, female background singer (She's in the official video.) And when I next connect with King Fred, my first request will be to inquire her name.
Singing as a duo (in "Morning Delight," "When I Think Of You," "Down In The Club," etc.) King Fred and his female accompaniment are as hypnotic as Sir Charles and LaKeisha, or (more recently) Alonzo and LaKeisha, or the early David Brinston, for that matter and "That Stokes Girl," Linda Stokes. In fact, I can't imagine King Fred's songs without his trusty female co-singing sidekick. The songs wouldn't be what they indeed are: classics.
Hicks' creativity, however, extends much further. One of the best tracks from Soul 2 Soul, "Body Rock," shows King Fred spreading his wings, bringing in a bigger background chorus, with a bit of gospel, and also a bit of rock and roll.
Listen to King Fred singing "Body Rock" on YouTube.
Another memorable track, the ballad "You Need Two," combines a rare, orchestral arrangement with a somewhat incongruous but workable, straight-ahead, Dave Mack-like vocal style. (Ouch! In the not-so-old days, I would have said Mel Waiters, not Dave Mack.)
"I'll Be Your Freak" comes the closest to having "hit" potential, with all the elements (including female background vocals) for success, and yet it did not become a hit, even by southern soul standards. A dense little cloud of "down" seems to hang over the melody, and when, for instance, the CD segues into "Dippin' In My Pudding," the holdover from the first album, spirits instantly lift, and authenticity seems to be restored, like electricity after a power outage.
But when "Keep This On The Low" queues up, the "cloud" returns. Bluesy, with a big dash of funk, the song captures Fred as the serious and sometimes taciturn fellow that he probably is, but it's not fun to listen to, nor does it raise you up like the best blues--David Brinston's recent "I Drinks My Whiskey," for example. On the other hand, "So Glad," is comparatively buoyant, without the purposeful yet off-putting oppressiveness of "I'll Be Your Freak" and "Keep This On The Low." And "Bachelor's Party"--unobtrusive, magical, delicate--finds Fred and his anonymous singing mate in wonderful form, ala "Morning Delight".
Fred is doing more official YouTube videos, the latest a presentation of the new album's "Leaving." The videos are homemade--or "down-home," take your choice--but they are very welcome and essential to spreading the young artist's fascinating new sound.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy King Fred's Soul 2 Soul album or mp3's at CD Baby.
April 8, 2018:
O.B. BUCHANA: Parking Lot Love Affair (Ecko Records) Five Stars ***** Can't Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven. Fourteen albums and counting, all on Ecko Records (not counting his early Paula/Suzie Q releases). Is it any wonder that O.B. Buchana, popping out CD's at the rate of one a year over two decades, experiences inevitable swings--ups and downs, hills and valleys? Oh, and by the way, that's more than double the album releases of superstar competitors T.K. Soul and Sir Charles Jones. O.B. Buchana is the most prolific southern soul artist of his generation.
Last year's SWING ON WITH O.B. was one of the lows, despite the catchiest, rocking-est single of Buchana's last decade, "Why Can't I Be Your Lover?" with its highly addictive, zydeco-buzzing accordion accompaniment. (See Best Mid-Tempo Song of 2016.) But there wasn't much else on Swing On, and what there was drew attention to some of O.B.'s faults, not his strengths.
That dynamic is flipped in this year's offering, PARKING LOT LOVE AFFAIR. His new album on Ecko accentuates all of O.B.'s artistic robustness: the breathtaking power he's able to turn on and off with a gunslinger's speed, the piquancy of his country-western leanings, the graceful balance of just-another-guy humility and larger-than-life, Ronnie-Lovejoy-scaled, Sho-Wasn't-Me grandeur. Buchana could be a big bully but he's not. He's a gentle giant, brimming with empathy, and all this and more is distilled into every note and syllable.
Songs from the new album began leaking out in December of 2017, when "Get On Up" appeared. Sonny Mack, another Memphis-based Ecko artist, originally wrote and recorded "Get On Up," which first charted in April 2016. O.B.'s cover version charted in December 2017, with the Daddy B. Nice comment: "It's like you think you're getting on the usual O.B. Buchana stagecoach and you find yourself on one of those 200-mile-an-hour Japanese tubes, spine pressed against the back of your seat."
Listen to O.B. Buchana singing "Get On Up" on YouTube.
Another Sonny Mack tune, one with a pleasant, rocking-chair-like melody and mid-tempo rhythm, "Goody Good Good Stuff," is also reworked by O.B. on this album.
But the real sign of the new CD was the arrival of the title tune:
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .
1. "Parking Lot Love Affair"-----O.B. Buchana
Who hasn't run into a stranger in a mall, been too bashful to approach, and later regretted it, sometimes remembering the stranger for years afterward? "Parking Lot Love Affair" is a universal fantasy and a giant step into a new frontier for southern soul's master stylist. O.B. puts everything into it: immediacy, a staggeringly-forceful vocal, a fan-friendly concept, great songwriting and, most prominently, all of himself, nothing held back.
Listen to O.B. Buchana singing "Parking Lot Love Affair" on YouTube.
"Nothing held back..." I found that a recurring thought as I listened to this CD. Even on its most innocuous numbers--for example, the Ecko-generic, opening cut, "I Wanna Get With You"--you're struck by one/ the freshness of O.B.'s vocal, two/ the "white-boy"-sounding background singing that the Ecko group has been honing on various records lately and taken to dizzying heights of charm, and three/ the wild and prolonged and amazingly textured falsetto notes Buchana lets loose with in the closing chorus.
O.B. followed up his #1 showing in February with another charting in March:
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .
1. "The Mule"------O.B. Buchana
I prefer O.B. as the stud of "The Mule," brimming with swagger and sexuality, to the tentative, would-be dancer of "Teach Me How To Swing," another song featured twice on Buchana's new Parking Lot Love Affair album. "The Mule's" rhythm section slinks along like a giant king snake while the Bootsy Collins-style guitar distortion blends with the falsetto background-singing of Latoya Malone to make a new and fiery sound. O.B. hits #1 for the second month in a row.
Listen to O.B. Buchana singing "The Mule" on YouTube.
And O.B.'s "Jam On With Me," with a little West-Indian flavor and a classic deep-soul organ highlighting the instrumental track, was a near-#1 chart-contender in April--and may be so again in May. (This is being written in April.)
See Daddy B. Nice's Corner: News & Notes April 7, 2018: Top Ten Singles "Spillover"
O.B. sings the lilting melody of "Jam On With Me," with an enduring sweetness. It's a feel-good song. It's even got a bridge--and a decent one at that. Incidentally, Both "Jam On" and "Parking Lot Love Affair" were written by Aubles (pronouced "O.B." in French, get it?) Buchana.
O.B. also wrote "Teach Me How To Swing," done twice on the album, and my least favorite of the selections. A little too like a Broadway tune. But in a set of songs as strong as this (think only of the devastating John Ward guitar lick that kicks off "Parking Lot Love Affair"), even "Teach Me How To Swing" holds interest. Some of the lyrics are telling:
"All my life, I watch people
Swaying on the dance floor.
I want to do it so bad,
But all the steps, I just don't know.
Then I saw you dancing.
You were the best I've ever seen.
A superstar on the dance floor,
Making the moves look
Like they came out of a dream.
You make it look easier than it can be..."
What O.B. is talking about in such autobiographical detail in "Teach Me How To Swing" is the bond between performers and dancers. I react to these lyrics from the perspective of the dance floor. I'm like those club-dancers in the Sharnette Hyter video to "Stilettos & Jeans." What got me into club-dancing was my fascination for the moving human form (and being divorced, lonely, desperate, and not wanting to go to church to meet women), and after a few years, I just danced for the sheer love of dancing. So I can well understand the poignancy behind O.B.'s putting dancers on a pedestal, a wish-fulfillment that reverses the usual fan-to-star situation. Although I do like the background singing on the "Club Remix," however, in the end "Teach Me How To Swing" really doesn't warrant doing twice. In a set with so many fine tunes, though, who's nitpickin'?
Two solid songs with hit potential in their own rights, "Las Vegas, Mississippi" (O.B.'s talking about Tunica, right?) and "Keep On Rollin'" round out this highly recommended album.
Way to go, O.B.! And congratulations for being the #6-ranked artist in contemporary southern soul music.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy O.B. Buchana's new PARKING LOT LOVE AFFAIR album at Amazon.
Buy O.B. Buchana's new PARKING LOT LOVE AFFAIR album at iTunes.
Chart-Climber! O.B. Buchana Rises from #9 to #6 on... See Daddy B. Nice's Top 100 Southern Soul Artists (21st Century)
See Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to O.B. Buchana.
March 25, 2018:
MISS LADY BLUES: Pieces Of My Soul (Miss Lady Blues)
Miss Lady Blues' single (You Don't Do Me) Like You Used To Do" was a stunning debut in a year--2013--of noteworthy debuts: Pokey Bear's "They Call Me Pokey," J-Wonn's "I Got This Record," Krishaunda Echols's "Mad Dog 20-20," Adrian Bagher's "Around The Corner" and Fredrick (King Fred) Hicks' "When I Think Of You"and "Morning Delight," among others. The song charted here in June of that year.
Four Stars **** Distinguished Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Review For. . .
…5. "Like You Used To"---------Miss Lady Blues
You'd swear this was Bobbye "Doll" Johnson singing under a pseudonym, so similar is the clear, warm vocal timbre.
Listen to Miss Lady Blues singing "(You Don't Do Me) Like You Used To Do" on YouTube.
Bobbye Johnson had only recently passed away, so nostalgia no doubt played a part in my commentary, but it was also the eerily similar empathy and emotional transparency conveyed in the vocal. Yet, Miss Lady Blues has never since quite recaptured--nor even chosen to pursue--that intimate, Bobbye Doll-like tone (which bled over into the deft production of that record), perhaps fearing that people would criticize the sound as too derivative--as I came close to doing, but did not.
I still think that "Like You Used To Do" is Miss Lady Blues' best song by far. Maybe that's why I haven't "taken" to the singles she has recorded with admirable regularity over the intervening years. What a surprise, then, to encounter these uncharted singles, here collected in Miss Lady Blues' first LP, PIECES OF MY SOUL, and discover that together, as a group and in unison, they possess a credibility they didn't have as individual records. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I kept waiting for a bad song--something exasperating, annoying--that would confirm my modest expectations. It never came, and by the end of the set I was shaking my head and saying to myself, "There wasn't a bad song on that record." And as I played the album again and again, the seamless, unbroken sequence of "grown-folks-nite-out" ambience lifted all of the songs, like boats, in an ever-friendlier tide of familiarity.
In the single "Good Thang," for example, Miss Lady Blues sounds unable to achieve the pristine sound of her vocal on "Like I Used To Do". She sounds out of breath at times, perhaps uncomfortable with the key. And yet, in the album setting the underlying substance (the lyrical content and instrumentation) of "Good Thang" comes to the fore, thanks to the sure-handed production skills and southern soul know-how of Alabama producer Ron G (Ronald G. Suggs), who's also worked with newcomers Columbus Toy, Solomon Thompson, Napoleon Demps ("A Lie Don't Care Who Tell It") and Big Ro Williams.
So, too, does "Come And Get It". As a single all by its lonesome, the vocal once again seems to be challenged, perhaps by singing in a lower octave than is ideal for the singer. The vocal tics reflect Lacee (albeit without Lacee's falsetto tools), herself a soprano whose vocals weaken when she sings in lower keys. Yet these flaws, too, disappear in the well-woven tapestry of the album.
"Certified Woman," with its booming bass line, the Staples-like "Beat Beat," the ballad "Sharing Ain't Easy," "Do It" and "Do It Again" all entertain as they roll by, and I readily admit I can't figure out why Pieces Of My Soul as a whole sounds so good and bears repeated, rewarding listenings while the individual singles--played alone, on their own merits...Well...Not so much.
I may be shooting blanks on this, but I suspect it comes down to the dynamic between Miss Lady Blues and producer Ron G., most obvious in "You Don't Do Me Like You Used To Do (The Remix)," featuring a rapper named Kutt The Check (get it?). On the one hand, the Ron G arrangement is quintessential southern soul, no doubt about it. And in the end that "fitting-like-a-fine-glove" quality of southern soul production may actually be the key to this album's success. There may not be a genuine "hit"--more like a "trampoline" of decent hooks and instrumental tracks, where you know no matter how high you bounce, you're not going to fall below a certain level of competence and variety and chitlin'-circuit PC.
On the other hand, Miss Lady Blues' vocal is far better--and displayed with much more finesse--in the original. It may be based on the Bobbye Johnson style, but it's undeniably exquisite. The remix doesn't hold a candle to it.
Which brings up the one glaring negative with Ron G... Miss Lady Blues' vocals inexplicably suffer. Complacency--or relinquishing of creative control--on Miss Lady Blues' part? A technical thing? The key, the mix? These vocal outings from Pieces Of My Soul, while workmanlike, are definitely a grade below Miss Lady Blues' inimitable performance on the original "You Don't Do Me Like You Used To Do." Further evidence, if needed, is contained in the nugget of an "Intro" to Pieces Of My Soul. It harks back--almost like a flashback--to the up-front-in-the-mix, crystal-clear, "Johnson" style, which could readily be Miss Lady Blues' own, should she choose.
And therein lies the dynamic. With Ron G, something is gained and something is lost. Still, who's to say this partnership won't get better and produce hit songs as it goes along? "Rodeo," another track from the album, just released in November, may be a harbinger. No fuzzy, low-in-the-mix vocal here. Ms. Blues & Suggs are honing in on a "hit," with Miss Lady Blues circling and descending like a raptor toward her eventual prey-slash-vocal identity.
The same can be said for "Mr. Fix It," which does not appear on the album, released in 2016 with an exemplary Miss Lady Blues vocal. And brawny-piped rookie Aaron Cook teams up with Miss Lady Blues on the impressive and hormone-saturated "Stroke It," which charted here in November, and is included in Pieces Of My Soul..
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Ms. Lady Blues was singled out for praise in Daddy B. Nice's 2017: The Year In Southern Soul, in which I referred to her "ecstatically singing the lullaby-like melody line in the chorus of “Shake It (The Remix)” as one of the memorable musical moments of the year. The song won BEST COVER SONG OF 2017.
Listen to Miss Lady Blues, J. Red & Columbus Toy singing "Shake It (The Remix)" on YouTube.
Coincidentally, Miss Lady Blues and Columbus Toy ("You're The Kind Of Woman I Need") have formed a duo and recorded an as-yet-unpublished EP called BLACK VELVET DUO, containing some of the songs ("Beat Beat," "Good Thang" and "Do It") from PIECES OF MY HEART, along with recent Columbus Toy singles "Wheneva," "Let's Go," "You're The Kind Of Woman I Need" and "I'm Gone". The above-mentioned Miss Lady Blues/Columbus Toy collaboration, "Mr. Fix It"--not included on PIECES--also finds a home in BLACK VELVET DUO. Watch for it to appear, possibly with the addition of two or three tracks, as an album-length CD in the coming year.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Miss Lady Blues' new PIECES OF MY SOUL CD at Amazon.
See Miss Lady Blues' other appearances and citations on the website in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
C-Wright, I Bluez Myself, 6-18-18
Solomon Thompson, Good Damn Music, 6-6-18
Various Artists (Napoleon Demps), Southern Soul, Vol. 2: Southern Soul with a Twist, 5-20-18
Various Artists (Ecko), Blues Mix 24: Party Soul Blues, 5-12-18
King Fred, Soul 2 Soul, 4-22-18
O.B. Buchana, Parking Lot Love Affair, 4-8-18
Miss Lady Blues, Pieces Of My Heart, 3-25-18
Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page.
Black Diamond, Love Journey, 3-5-18 (Scroll down this column.)
LGB, Our Love Slipped Away, 2-10-18 (Scroll down this column.)
Pokey Bear, Bear Season, 12-12-17 (Contained in the Pokey Bear Artist Guide. Click link.)
Various Artists, Trailride Music Vol. 1, 12-12-17 (Contained in the Beat Flippa Artist Guide. Click link.)
Miss Portia, All In My Feelings, 12-12-17 (Contained in the Miss Portia Artist Guide. Click link.)
Ra'Shad (The Blues Kid), Country Soul, 11-12-17 (Scroll down this column.)
Ms. Jody, Thunder Under Yonder, 10-30-17 (Contained in the Ms. Jody Artist Guide. Click link.)
Stan Butler, The Blues In Me, 10-13-17 (Contained in the Stan Butler Artist Guide. Click link.)
Nellie "Tiger" Travis, Mr. Sexy Man: The Album, 9-25-17 (Contained in the Nellie "Tiger" Travis Artist Guide. Click link.)
Various Artists (Ecko), Blues Mix 23: Ultimate Southern Soul 9-11-17 (Scroll down this column.)
Mo' B, Toast It Up, 8-28-17 (Scroll down this column.)
Angel Faye Russell, A Taste Of Angel, 8-28-17 (Scroll down this column.)
Uncle Wayne, The Birth of Hithm & Bluez Vol. 1, 8-28-17 (Scroll down this column.)
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.
March 5, 2018:
BLACK DIAMOND: Love Journey (Black Diamond / M.D. Records) Three Stars *** Solid Debut By A New Southern Soul Group.
Scratching my head a few songs into this set, I had one dominant thought: Black Diamond is a lot further from being a southern soul act than a couple of their singles had led me to believe. For example, "Don't Stop Moving," the opening track of the group's debut album, LOVE JOURNEY, and a piece of pop and southern soul artistry that any southern soul aficionado would treasure, is followed by the banal, female-lead-sung "Groove You," which doesn't sound anything like the male-lead-sung "Don't Stop Moving". It could be a different band entirely.
So if you're coming to this album with strong southern soul expectations, you need to temper them. The regional base of Black Diamond overlaps with the beach music genre, "beach music" being a kind of Southern Soul Lite (albeit better than most of the country) in which boy-band melodies, flute-like keyboard lines and other "pop" mannerisms--not to mention interchangeable male and female lead singers--are more the norm.
But oh my! The fireworks generated by the mostly Ricky Fuller-based vocals on the album's choicest tracks! The talent of the four principals--Ricky and Clarence Fuller, Karen Jackson and Reginald L. Barnes--is not in question. Nor is the expertise of their producers: Jamal Lewis, Eric Darnell, George Dickens Jr. and Purvis Williams.
Multi-talented fellow-Carolinian J. Red produced "I Will (If He Won't)," the song that first brought Black Diamond to the attention of the chitlin' circuit. (I received my copy in March of 2014! Hard to believe it's been four years.)
Then there's "True Love," not quite as catchy melodically but still a solid piece of songwriting, and an obvious attempt to create a song immersed in southern soul convention.
The masterpiece of the set is "They Want Me Too," a lavish composition in which all the group's finest qualities mesh: the lead-singing of Ricky Fuller, the back-and-forth harmonizing of Ricky and his brother Clarence, and the most effective (if modest) use of Karen Jackson's background singing to forge a tune good enough to crash both the southern soul and beach music charts.
Here's my initial write-up upon its first charting here in 2016:
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles Preview For. . .
5. “They Want Me Too (Don't Let It Ruin Us)”--------Black Diamond
One of the lead singers (North Carolina brothers Clarence and Ricky Fuller share duties) sounds like The Eagles’ Don Henley, charismatic within a restricted vocal range, but one that etches itself in your memory. The harmonies (including Karen Jackson and LaShunda Tyson) are great.
Listen to Black Diamond singing “They Want Me Too (Don’t Let It Ruin Us, Baby)” on ReverbNation.
Or one could cite "Rescue You," in which the band scores the biggest coup a new band with southern soul aspirations can attain, guest-featuring none other than the "King of Southern Soul," Sir Charles Jones.
At its best ("Don't Stop Moving," "They Want Me Too," "True Love," "I Will"), LOVE JOURNEY is the perfect fit for that "Americana"-Grammy niche--an irresistible blend of southern soul and pop. Due to mainstream America's ignorance of the chitlin' circuit and southern soul music, only recall that William Bell's 2016 Grammy for his contemporary southern soul album THIS IS WHERE I LIVE came in the "Americana" category.
But as commendable and enjoyable as the bulk of the first half of LOVE JOURNEY is, the second half--consisting of mostly Karen Jackson-showcased tunes--disappoints. In-your-face, urban-smooth "Slippin" and "Real Love" in particular are far removed from the southern soul atmosphere set by the preceding Fuller Brothers songs.
And is it southern soul prejudice to suggest the use of Karen Jackson as a lead singer does not work in a southern soul context? (Not because she's female, you understand, but because she's a competing lead singer with a jarringly different sound.) And if so, isn't that prejudice (call it the prejudice of not wanting to be confused) also reflected in southern soul radio? I haven't heard any of the Karen Jackson lead vocals on the usual outlets.
Which brings up the larger question. Can Black Diamond as currently assembled even survive? I don't see how. There's too much talent tugging in opposing artistic directions. Whether you like them or not, the Karen Jackson vehicles distract and detract from the Ricky Fuller hits (the songs the fans recognize as "Black Diamond"), diluting their impact, and this dichotomy in sound imperils the band's continuing viability.
Add to that the difficulty of even being a "band" in southern soul. The only two examples of successful bands on the chitlin' circuit in recent years are the Klass Band Brotherhood (whose fans also overlapped with beach music) and The Revelations featuring Tre' Williams (essentially white Northerners with a black front-man), and where are they today? Disbanded. Nelson Curry and Tre' Williams, their respective lead singers, are solo artists, following a long and hallowed tradition of lead singers transitioning from R&B groups to solo careers.
I can only think of one other instance in the 21st Century of a (regionally) successful contemporary southern soul "band". That would be Hardway Connection. Ironically, Hardway also came out of that "Southern Soul Lite" Eastern seaboard connection, Maryland specifically.
The Black Diamond "brand"--a tremendous accomplishment in itself--is Ricky Fuller's. It's the sound of "They Want Me Too" and "Don't Stop Moving," and if this were a four or five-song EP, LOVE JOURNEY would rate five stars--the best there is.
But as constituted LOVE JOURNEY is unfortunately a twelve-track ultimatum on the contradictions confronting this band's future.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Black Diamond's new LOVE JOURNEY CD at CD Baby.
Buy Black Diamond's new LOVE JOURNEY CD at iTunes.
February 10, 2018:
LGB: Our Love Slipped Away (Rock N' Stereo Records) Two Stars ** Dubious. Not much here. Your Daddy B. Nice has unduly procrastinated in posting this review in an effort to find the most civil way of saying that OUR LOVE SLIPPED AWAY isn't much more than a "vanity" press. While it's refreshing to hear material dealing with grown-folks' romantic issues, LGB's new CD is her weakest to date, and the search for the reason has to start with the lack of a strong anchor tune in the mode of "Country Woman Pt. 2" or "Jealous Wo-Man Yes I Am" or "Reality Slowly Walks Us Down," the fine singles from her first two CD's.
LGB acquits herself reasonably well, if unevenly, as a vocalist, and her back-up musicians provide professional and textured instrumental tracks, but none of it can mask the abysmal songwriting. There might be the genesis of a song hidden somewhere in the verses of "Our Love Slipped Away," the title tune of the new set, but not in the limp tempo or the chorus, consisting of repetitions and minor variations of a single note. Did LGB think the mere presence of Johnny Rawls would transform the tune? It's a shame to see so much instrumental care squandered in the execution of such mediocre material.
Listen to LGB singing "Our Love Slipped Away" on YouTube.
The lack of songwriting unfortunately extends to the set as a whole. "You're Driving Me Crazy" has another chorus consisting essentially of a single embroidered chord, as does "Tore Up From The Floor Up," a honky-tonk-style blues sporting otherwise solid musicianship and background singing. Melody is as scarce as water in Death Valley, and LGB's meandering vocal arpeggios, like persistent little clouds, further obscure any rays of melody from shining through.
When a semblance of musicality does appear, it's in the genre of country music. "She Ended Loving Him Today" and "I'm Pulling The Plug" are fully-dressed country music songs right down to their steel-guitar accompaniments--and the best pure "songs" on the album--with "We Were Never Meant To Be," sans steel guitar, also essentially country.
Listen to LGB singing "She Ended Loving Him Today" on YouTube.
Incidentally, Tricia Barnwell, LGB's talented daughter and the distinctive background singer on all LGB's albums, including this one, is a black country singer whose songs from her first album actually charted here at Southern Soul back in the day.
Listen to LGB singing "I'm Pulling The Plug" on YouTube.
The two most interesting songs from a southern soul perspective are "A Woman Needs," which may remind southern soul fans of Ms. Jody's recent "Where I Come From," and in which LGB sings with some simplicity and authority. The second is "I'm Evil Tonight," which starts with promise but doesn't fulfill it.
The final track is the stunner, five minutes--yes, five minutes--of (ostensibly) LGB doodling on the piano, sampling old standards that are evidently personally cherished, even missing notes at times in the fashion of a beginning pianist or an impromptu partyer or bar patron. It turns out, if you read the liner notes (but how many people are going to do that?), that the five minutes of piano cameos are performed by LGB's grand-daughters' (or other pre-teen family members). If this coda concluded an album of satisfying songs, all would be forgiven. But after the thin and unaccomplished material that precedes it, "Piano Musical Melodies," not to mention this ill-conceived album as a whole, hits rock-bottom with a thud.
--Daddy B. Nice
Sample/Buy LGB's new OUR LOVE SLIPPED AWAY album at CD Baby.
Read Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to LGB.
November 12, 2017: RA'SHAD (THE BLUES KID): Country Soul (Mondo Tunes) Three Stars *** Solid Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist.
COUNTRY SOUL is the first album by a young artist from Laurel, Mississippi. Fans of "grown folks, good-times" sounds in the vein of Lomax's "Swing It" (or prior to that Mel Waiter's "Swing Out Song") may want to check him out. A nominee for Best Southern Soul Debut Artist of 2016, singer/songwriter Ra'Shad McGill, recording as Ra'Shad The Blues Kid, first struck pay dirt with the mid-tempo "Shake It".
Listen to Ra'Shad singing "Shake It" on YouTube.
Charting at SouthernSoulRnB in August '16, the gently-rocking dance tune reminded your Daddy B. Nice of vintage Lee "Shot" Williams in its singer's casual singing style and sensual intimacy. Ra'Shad returned to the charts in September '17, coinciding with the album release, with "Go Get It," a duet with L.J. Echols.
Listen to Ra'Shad and L.J. singing "Go Get It" on YouTube.
Your Daddy B. Nice praised the "great, chunky rhythm track--almost like listening to reggae's archetypal rhythm section of Sly & Robbie". But while giving credit for the instrumentation to Echols, the unpretentious pleasure generated by the melody and vocal were all Ra'Shad's.
Meanwhile, Ra'Shad wasted no time, parlaying his debut single ("Shake It") into all-important touring dates and networking with other like-minded musicians. One such joint effort is "You're All That I Need," a duet with Miss Portia from her upcoming debut album, All In My Feelings.
More at home, Ra'Shad teams with Napoleon Demps on the zydeco-tinged "Saddle Up," a hit-worthy track from COUNTRY SOUL with the goods to match if not surpass the popularity of "Shake It".
Watch the official video of Ra'Shad and Napoleon singing "Saddle Up" on YouTube.
Ra'Shad was also featured on a song from Napoleon's debut album from last year, the compilation Southern Soul, Vol. 1.
Listen to Ra'Shad and Napoleon singing "Never Get It All" on YouTube.
"Get It All" is wisely reprised on COUNTRY SOUL.
Another highlight of Ra'Shad's new album is his partnering with the renowned young gun of southern soul, J-Wonn, on The Blues Kid's signature single.
Listen to Ra'Shad and J-Wonn singing "Shake It (The Remix)" on YouTube.
In fact, what may be most impressive about Ra'Shad's first effort is the sureness of the artist's grasp of southern soul. There are hardly any of the mis-steps characteristic of typical debuts. A song like the mid-tempo but rocking-out "Good Love," for example, isn't a head-turner, but for what it is, it's done well.
And yet there is one such exception--and mis-step--on the CD: the mall-generic, straight-blues "Dance". "Dance" could have been recorded by a million other blues artists. On "Dance" Ra'Shad becomes anonymous.
Listen to Ra'Shad singing "Dance" on YouTube.
The point is that only Ra'Shad The Blues Kid could have recorded "Shake It" or "Saddle Up" or the heartfelt "I Love The Blues" or the other tracks on Country Soul. Suddenly Ra'Shad becomes one IN a million, not one OF a million. Ra'Shad already understands this, as attested to by the rest of COUNTRY SOUL, and that's a huge step forward in his budding career.
--Daddy B. Nice
Sample/Buy Ra'Shad's new Country Soul CD at Amazon.
Sample/Buy Ra'Shad's new Country Soul CD at iTunes.
See Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Ra'Shad.
September 11, 2017:
Various Artists: Blues Mix 23: Ultimate Southern Soul (Ecko) Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy.
I've come to believe that the titles John Ward and Larry Chambers of Ecko Records dream up for their popular "Blues Mix" sampler series could just as well be pulled out of a hat. Each set, whether it be called "ultimate southern soul" or something else, is just what the series says: a sprinkling of blues and southern soul and all the blurred middle ground between.
The long-running Memphis studio still has the most distinguished roster of southern soul artists signed to any single label--even more so when its vault of past signings and recordings is taken into account. Included here are two songs apiece by O.B. Buchana, Ms. Jody, and Mr. Sam, with solo selections by Jaye Hammer, Sheba Potts-Wright, Val McKnight and the late Quinn Golden. Also included are two tunes by a Roanoke, Virginian, Randolph Walker, who has never published an album at Ecko.
Of the album's cast of characters--and although Ms. Jody and O.B. Buchana fans might beg to differ--Mr. Sam has perhaps the best showing with two recent singles from Make Time For Her, his new CD.
"Broke As Hell" is currently getting airplay and just missed Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "Breaking" Southern Soul Singles the last two months running. The voice-over towards the end calling out specific artists and "broke as hell" southern soul musicians in general is funny.
Listen to Mr. Sam's new, nearly 7-minute, official video of "Broke As Hell," with cameos by O.B. Buchana, L.J. Echols, Karen Wolfe and Omar Cunningham.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sam's "She Don't Want Me No More" was a Daddy B. Nice #1 "Breaking" Southern Soul Single in March of this year (read the four-star CD review), also drawing praise from Southern Soul Blues author David Whiteis:
Absolutely 100% in agreement. Why Sam has never "crossed over" into the R&B "mainstream" is beyond me.
Listen to Mr. Sam singing "She Don't Want Me No More" on YouTube.
Ms. Jody fans will enjoy "Booty Strut," the #7-ranked tune in August '17's Top 10 "Breaking" Southern Soul Singles and a key track from the singer's just-released collection, Thunder Under Yonder. Also included is Ms. Jody's "I Ain't Gonna Lie This Time," from 2015's Talking 'Bout My Good Thang album.
The venerable O.B. Buchana is represented by the always welcome "This Party Is A Mutha" from 2008's Southern Soul Country Boy album and "I Got To Get Myself Together," which I would have sworn was also taken from an old O.B. record. Not so--it's a new song--which speaks to the point I made about O.B. in my last, less-than-enthusiastic CD review of Swing On With O.B.: namely, that O.B.'s new songs sound increasingly and eerily similar to his past songs.
Few people would disagree, I think, that most of the remainder of the compilation--work by Jaye Hammer, Sheba Potts-Wright, Quinn Golden and Val McKnight--qualifies as filler, B-sides at best, of interest only to the curious, specialized or archival. And although I wholeheartedly agree with newcomer Randolph Walker's assertion, made in a CD Baby bio that...
..."the mid-60's to early-70's--think the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Beach Boys--was the Golden Age of music when the highest creative achievement went hand in hand with record sales"...
...I don't see the artistry of that era and those greats reflected in his own work gathered here, "This Masquerade Is Over" or "Sunshine 98."
But due to the underlying professionalism of all the artists represented, even the lesser material has the blessed advantage of all such samplers in the Blues Mix chain: variety.
--Daddy B. Nice
August 28, 2017:
Three CD's By Newcomers: 21/2 Stars, Somewhere Between "Dubious" And "Solid":
M0' B -- Toast It Up
ANGEL FAYE RUSSELL -- A Taste Of Angel
UNCLE WAYNE -- The Birth Of Hithm And Bluez Vol.1
What to do when an album by a new artist features admirable work ethic and talent, yet is sabotaged by lackluster execution and/or inexperience? That's a quandary in which your Daddy B. Nice frequently finds himself, especially when trying to evaluate young and aspiring recording artists.
On the one hand, to give the artist a "solid" (three-star, thumb-up) review only dooms the artist to mediocrity and false illusions, and agony over the wasted years down the line. On the other, to give the artist a "dubious" (two-star, thumb-down) review can deliver a crushing blow to the artist's psyche, and even convince an artist with otherwise great potential to quit.
The third option is not to review at all, which happens often, and may be the cruelest (in the artist's mind) of all. As Easy-E from NWA used to say in more flamboyant fashion, any publicity is good publicity.
Sharnette Hyter, the young artist whose Grown Folks Talkin' just received a rave, 4-star review here, would not have garnered that rating in 2010, when her actual debut was released. It, too, would have been somewhere between "dubious" and "solid"--and nowhere near the "distinguished" rating she gained after seven years of hard work and seasoning.
So let's look at three recent releases by new artists that have stumped and paralyzed me--two stars or three stars, "dubious" or "solid"--and say that they all rate somewhere between the two. What this means to you, the southern soul consumer, is that purchasing single mp3's rather than the full LP is the prudent way to buy.
UNCLE WAYNE, The Birth Of Hithm And Bluez Vol.1 (Dewayne Morris / The Hithm & Bluez Music Group)
Uncle Wayne hails from Ruston, Louisiana--which I once knew. I couldn't believe it when I saw it on the wrapper though, because Uncle Wayne (aka DeWayne Morris) sings and produces The Birth of Hithm & Bluez, Vol. 1 as if he's from Atlanta--or at least as if he thinks it's cooler to be from Atlanta. He loves the drum machine and extra helpings of bass in all its Bigg Robb, mid-America glory.
There's nothing wrong with that, but it's where you go with it, and when Uncle Wayne gets to the fork in the road where it's southern soul one way, hiphop the other, he invariably goes hiphop. And in the one southern soul homage on the set, Uncle Wayne embarrasses himself--a mistake of youth, easily overlooked--and yet, he doesn't come within shouting distance of the much fuller, finely-detailed and seductive Johnnie Taylor original of "Good Love."
Listen to Uncle Wayne singing "Good Luv" on YouTube.
Notice, also, Wayne picks the least southern soul-derived song in the Johnnie Taylor catalog, and it is this insistent preference on urban sounds--funk grooves, hiphop and/or urban production--throughout the bulk of the album that'll deter the true-blue southern soul enthusiast who prefers things grittier.
Yet, at times Uncle Wayne comes tantalizingly close to being a southern soul artist. His vocals possess a rare, undefinable, country twang (think Clarence Carter, David Brinston, or more recently, King Fred Hicks) which if properly harnessed could make sweet southern soul music. The potential is there if the will is lacking.
Listen to Uncle Wayne singing "Coming Threw" (sic) on YouTube.
"Coming Through" features Uncle Wayne's vocal quality (including voice-overs) in more rustic guise. Louisiana comes bubbling through the vocals, reminiscent of "Red House," one of your Daddy B. Nice's early Uncle Wayne favorites, included here in an impressive seven-minute treatise. And you can see why, long ago, I saw so much potential in the singer/songwriter.
Listen to Uncle Wayne singing "Red House" on YouTube.
But most of the album--and most of the newer tunes--hew to urban/hiphop/techno forms, an unfortunate and "dubious" artistic choice at a time when so many Gulf-Coast hiphoppers (Pokey, Beat Flippa, et.al.) have transitioned so successfully to the southern soul genre.
ANGEL FAYE RUSSELL, A Taste Of Angel (Music Access)
Two of the songs on Montgomery, Alabama songstress Angel Faye Russell's debut album, A Taste Of Angel, outshine anything on the Uncle Wayne CD. Both were featured singles on the late Robert Henderson Jr.'s Hot Spot Records' (also originating in Montgomery) Vol. 3 and Vol. 4 compilations. They are "New Pair Of Shoes" and "Helluva Woman," both of which have charted here.
Listen to Angel Faye Russell singing "New Pair Of Shoes" on YouTube.
Listen to Angel Faye Russell singing "I'm A Helluva Woman" on YouTube.
With memorable melodies, solid if modest production and winning lead vocals, these are southern soul songs which should take Angel Faye far. "Helluva Woman" reaped Russell a Best Female Vocalist nomination in 2014.
A Taste Of Angel brings together these gems and other Russell recordings dating back to around 2014, including the less enjoyable funk groove "I'm Going Back To Cheatin," by another Russell aggregation called FunkNation which also included former Hep'Me Records recording artist Little Kim Stewart.
What's "dubious" about A Taste Of Angel is the lack of consistency throughout, beginning with "Cheatin'". The quality of the rest of the set drops precipitously, including the title tune, "Trail Ride Slide," a stepping/line-dance exercise whose "to the left, to the right" riff is simply too generic and timeworn to justify the new-single hopes Angel Faye has obviously invested in it.
Also typifying the set's collapse of inspiration is "My Baby Boo," the umpteenth recycling of the old Rascals' "Groovin'" hook that Betty Wright used for "Tonight Is The Night." Too much of A Taste Of Angel simply does not rise to the level of excellence Angel displays in "Helluva Woman" and "New Shoes". She's on the right track, however, and should only get better. Of the three CD's under review, this one has the most southern soul for your buck.
MO' B, Toast It Up (CD Baby / Marrisee L. Boyd)
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas and transplanted to southern soul's epi-center, Jackson, Mississippi, Mo' B (the performing name of Marrisee Boyd) is the most "music-wise" of the trio under review. You only have to listen to the fullness and scope of the production in the first few bars of any song from his debut album Toast It Up.
Listen to Mo' B singing "Beautiful" on YouTube.
Moreover, Mo' B is showing up on the southern soul tour circuit, which makes it even more important that the southern soul police pull him over--not for "driving while black"--but "impersonating a southern soul singer". We probably haven't seen an aspiring producer this gifted, this simultaneously urban-sounding yet southern-soul-obsessed, since Simeo Overall's musically bi-polar emergence a decade ago.
In Mo' B's defense, he bills himself as "The Prince Of Urban Soul." And yet, the irony of him onstage in front of a southern soul demographic singing the light-jazz/pop-sounding title track, "Toast It Up," can't be exaggerated. Mo' B sings about "all the deejay's playing southern soul" and "this one's for the grown and sexy" in the middle of a song that sounds like a show tune.
Toast It Up begins with a couple of impressive songs, "True Love" and "Beautiful". "True Love" is a phenomenal piece of synthesized production for a debut artist. Think Avail Hollywood. But even more to the point, "True Love" comes tantalizingly close to being a southern soul anthem in the grand tradition of romantic southern soul: Ollie Nightingale's "She's In A Midnight Mood In The Middle Of The Day," Jesse Graham's "Mr. Mailman" or "Jeff Floyd's "I Found Love On A Lonely Highway".
Listen to Mo' B singing "True Love" on YouTube.
The ballad "Beautiful," with a seductive melody and tempo, straddles the fence between hiphop/urban and southern soul, while "Old And Grey" reminds me of the contemplative ambience of Goodie Mob's hiphop classic, "Beautiful Skin," both of which come closer to pure southern soul than most of the rest of Mo' B's album.
If he's gigging up the I-20, I-10 and I-55 corridors, Mo' B has to be absorbing southern soul in more than conceptual ways, and that bodes well. He needs to narrow the musical gap between his instrumental backgrounds and his lyrical content. Then songs with southern soul aspirations like "Jody Got His Ass Whooped" will resound with the audience in ways he can only dream of with this inaugural effort.
--Daddy B. Nice
Sample/Buy Uncle Wayne's The Birth of Hithm & Bluez, Vol. 1 at CD Baby.
Sample/Buy Angel Faye Russell's A Taste Of Angel at Amazon.
Sample/Buy Mo' B's Toast It Up at CD Baby.