Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation

Daddy B. Nice's #14 ranked Southern Soul Artist



Portrait of Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation by Daddy B. Nice
 




"That Bitch Ain't Me"

Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation

October 30, 2021:

See the chart.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "That Bitch Ain't Me" on YouTube.

Her most highly-regarded single, "Man Enough" has never made it to one million YouTube views (commonplace these days but not when "Man Enough" came out), and only one other song, the relatively recently-released "B.O.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend)," has come close to 100K. Nor does Karen Wolfe have much of a presence in media or social media---even among southern soul fans, she's under-exposed. But ask southern soul insiders and they'll tell you there is no female performer more reliably authentic: Karen Wolfe is the unsurpassed, country voice of southern soul. Put another way, if you're looking for the exact opposite---and the antidote to---the over-produced (pick your poison), melodramatic, or super-glitzy vocals of urban R&B divas, Karen Wolfe is it.

Nellie "Tiger" Travis belts it out in husky, traditional, Koko Taylor fashion. Lacee is a soulful songbird. Ms. Jody's got that unique, country-western-inflected tone. It goes down like cream-in-your-coffee, latte' of southern soul. But Karen Wolfe' vocal style is all of that and more, a soulfulness as black as an Angus's tookus on a muddy, moonless night. When Karen sings you imagine your uncle's overalls and your aunt's warm cookies. You visualise porches and mud rooms redolent with rural smells, dishes washed by hand stacked in a dishrack next to the sink, clothes hanging on clothes lines, big old cars and pickups parked in the yard, surrounded by tire-popping gravel and two-lane blacktop and trees all around overhead. These memories may be sublimated---they may not even be true---but the culture they paint inhabits every Wolfean phrase, making the longer notes linger like the after-effects of an intoxicating potion. The voice takes us back to a "better" or "simpler" time, inviting us to see the present through the tinted glasses of what came before, even as we're tapping away on our cell phones.

I've communicated with Karen Wolfe regularly over the years (scroll down for biography and discography), dispensing praise and criticism as the case called for to an always gracious and grateful ear, but as I pored over Karen's music in preparing for this artist guide I was continually taken aback by how little of her ouevre I was actually familiar with, or had forgotten, and how much of it I had unaccountably missed! For example, my recommended top singles (right-hand column of this page) don't even include "A Woman Needs a Strong Man," which as I listened to it again and again impressed me as very possibly the most fitting and inspiring testimony of Karen Wolfe's career. Here are some of the lyrics:

"Men are still trying to figure out
What a woman wants
And what she really needs
And what it takes to keep her pleased

Now he may be able
To stand up in it
And that's all fine
But what I want all you fellas to know
That ain't no requirement of mine

A woman wants a strong man
She don't want no do-wrong man
A woman wants a caring man
She don't need no non-sharing man

Most men can't seem
To get it in their heads
That a woman needs to be made love to
Sometimes outside of the bed

If he can make it talk
That's well and good
But while you got it talking, fellas
There's just one more thing
That must be understood

(Chorus)
(A woman wants a strong man...)

She needs a man
That's always got her back
She needs a man
To take up the slack

(Chorus)

She needs a man
To say 'You look good" sometimes
She needs a man
To let her shop until she drops
She needs a man
To compliment her on how she wears her hair
She needs a man
To say 'I like the clothes you wear'

(chorus)

....She needs a man
To go to work on Monday
Bring home that money on Friday
And go to church on Sunday..."

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "A Woman Needs A Strong Man" on YouTube.

As I listened to this overlooked tune again and again, I kept asking myself, "Why did you miss it? Why didn't you champion it? It might have made a difference (in how it was received by fans)." One possible answer is the slow tempo. Another is the sentimentality of the lyrics. But in retrospect the words don't seem soppy, gushy or mawkish. They cry out with character. And Karen's vocal lends so much to their credibility.

Another song that I can't remember ever hearing on the radio or ever honoring with commentary is "Don't Play With Me". The main refrain goes like this:

"If you want a lady
I can be your baby
I'll be your lover and friend
Through thick and thin

But if you want a cheap thrill
You'd better tell me
How you really feel
'Cause you're not a little boy
And my heart is not a toy
Don't play with me"

This song, from the 2012 album Telling It Like It Is, drew my attention as I was compiling YouTube statistics. Other than "Man Enough," this mid-tempo gem with a Far-East fillip to its hook is Wolfe's most popular page, so somebody (including a lot of fans) must have heard and liked it.

Yet another song---this one familiar---that I encountered with an enhanced appreciativeness (along with bafflement that it never made a bigger impression upon me) is "Broken Hearts Don't Last". Karen's vocal shines through with a power reserved for true stars. The arrangement and vocal are reminiscent of Keisa Brown's "Some Bridges Need Burning Down"---exactly the type of vintage southern soul whose legacy Wolfe embodies.

Listening to these overlooked songs from Karen Wolfe's past, I kept flashing forward to Karen's present output over the last two or three years, and comparing the past with the present. Much has changed, both in Wolfe's personal life (a divorce, a new hubby) and artistic career (a new label, a new manager). It was these new songs, beginning with "B.O.B." and "That Bitch (or Chick) Ain't Me" and their accompanying EP Unplugged, and the very latest songs from the Covid era ("Grown Folk Step," "Just Good-Bye," "Stay Together" and "I'll Leave The Light On") that fortified Karen Wolfe's claim to contemporary relevance and a lofty niche in Daddy B. Nice's new Top 100 Chart: The New Generation. Alas, these new songs aren't compiling big numbers---not even as big as some of the middling numbers for Wolfe's vintage work. In recent commentary, I've written that:

It’s clear that Karen Wolfe is pursuing a more commercial and accessible sound. At the same time she’s trying to maintain the rootsy vocal chops that are her unique brand and claim to fame.

I still believe Karen Wolfe is on the right track with her new work, but reviewing her catalog has given me pause. The old work still packs a tremendous punch and in many ways is more heart-felt. Discovering the best way to move forward will be Karen's biggest dilemma. On the one hand, she can't lose the greatness---the signature sound of her one-of-a-kind country voice---and the sterling commitment and authenticity that shines through those records. On the other hand, she must forge ahead, appealing to the musical needs of the younger generation of fans, whether that means "lighter" or "slicker" or more "professionally-produced" or catching lightning in a bottle with some crazy, up-to-the-minute lyric.

In the meantime, however, no worries. She's game. You can see it in her evolving face and body, as if she is slowly but surely metamorphosizing into a performing-star, super-heroine version of herself. Her stature will continue to rise, and this artist guide merely and belatedly serves notice that Karen Wolfe ranks among the top three female vocalists in southern soul music.

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For the latest updates (including biography, discography, album sellers, CD reviews and contemporaneous reports) on Karen Wolfe, scroll down this page. To automatically link to Karen Wolfe's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and other citations on the website, go to "Karen Wolfe" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
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Note: Karen Wolfe also appears on Daddy B. Nice's
Top 100 21st Century Southern Soul (2000-2020). To read Daddy B Nice's commentary on Karen Wolfe prior to 2021, click here.
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SouthernSoulRnB.com - Chitlin' Circuit Southern Soul Music Guide

--Daddy B. Nice


About Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation

Karen Wolfe was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas August 14, 1959. She sang with her sister in an all-girl gospel group named Soul Unlimited for a decade. She recorded her first album, Stop By Here, with a gospel quartet group called The Harmonettes.

In 1992 Karen married Denise LaSalle's brother-in-law, Gary Wolfe. They moved to Jackson, Tennessee in 1997. Denise hired Karen as a back-up singer and her career in Southern Soul started. She spent thirteen long years with LaSalle.

LaSalle always recognized Karen's talent and eventually encouraged her to start a solo career, but Karen hesitated. Finally, Anna Coday (the late Bill Coday's wife), who was Denise LaSalle's road manager, became Karen's manager. Karen signed with B&J Records, Bill Coday's indie label, and released First Time Out in 2006.

Bill Coday, whom Karen still affectionately calls "Paw Paw," died on June 7, 2008, too soon to witness Karen's remarkable second album, A Woman Needs A Strong Man (B&J), and her hit single, "Man Enough," written and produced by Southern Soul star Omar Cunningham.

 Every Woman Needs A Strong Man won Southern Soul RnB's Award for Best Southern Soul CD Of 2009 (B & J Records, Exec. Producer---Anna Coday).

In 2010 the single "Stuttering," also written by Omar Cunningham, gained considerable air play on the Stations of the Deep South, and in 2011 the single "You Ain't No Player" became a fixture of chitlin' circuit music outlets. The two singles were gathered together in Karen Wolfe's third LP, Telling It Like It Is, in 2012.

Karen's single "Ain't Nobody Got Time For That," featuring Nelson Curry of the Klass Band Brotherhood, hit #1 in April 2014 on Daddy B. Nice's singles charts. And once again enlisting Omar Cunningham's writing expertise, Wolfe's single "B.O.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend)," a tongue-in-cheek paen to vibrators, charted at #2 in January of 2015. Both songs were incorporated into Wolfe's fourth studio album No Regrets, released in the summer of 2015. Other fan favorites from the set included "Southern Soul Party Mood" and "Get Your Lie Straight".

In 2016 Karen collaborated with her former mentor, Denise LaSalle, on the tune "Shake A Little Something," and in September of 2016 Karen hooked up with another big-time collaborator, Sir Charles Jones, on "You Think I'm Wrong, I Think I'm Right," a duet roughly modeled on the Love Doctor/Thomisene Anderson classic, "Lies (You Said It, No I Didn't)".

"You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man" hit #2 on the Daddy B. Nice singles charts in February of 2018. Written by John Cummings and produced by Terry Wright, the song was one of Wolfe's most popular. The very same month, a song using the chords from Etta James "I'd Rather Go Blind" titled "That Chick Ain't Me" made the same Top 10 Singles at #4. Fan response wasn't immediate, but it turned out to be even more popular with southern soul fans.

The EP Unplugged appeared in 2019. This little set packed a punch, containing the most hit-laden series of songs in Wolfe's discography, including "B.O.B," "You Ain't Woman Enough," "Shake A Little Something," "That Chick Ain't Me" and a slightly more X-rated version of the latter called "That Bitch Ain't Me." Here's Daddy B. Nice bullet commentary from November of 2018:

Even more so than when it charted here as "That Chick Ain't Me" in February (scroll down this page), I think this is an important song. Maybe it can't be marketed or broadcast as such, but the vernacular "bitch" is more real, accurate and relevant, and therefore even more powerful. The inflection in Karen's voice as she sings the last three words in "You made your bed/Now LIE IN IT"...You'll never hear stuff like that outside of southern soul, folks.

Unplugged also marked Karen Wolfe's transition from Coday Records to her own indie label managed by Gene Munns, Sweet Success Records.

Wolfe has released a handful of high-profile singles but no albums during the Covid-19 era. "Girls Night Out" was a late addition to the Unplugged EP. "Grown Folks Step" charted in March of 2020, "Stay Together" featuring Calvin Richardson in May of 2021 and "I'll Leave The Light On" in September of 2021. In his Top 10 commentary for "I'll Leave The Light On" (her "Motel 6 song") Daddy B. Nice summed up Karen Wolfe's latest work in this way:

It’s clear that Karen Wolfe is pursuing a more commercial and accessible sound. At the same time she’s trying to maintain the rootsy vocal chops that are her unique brand and claim to fame. Her “Motel Six” song (too bad she couldn’t have called it that) is the best evidence yet she’s bound to succeed.

Karen Wolfe Discography:

First Time Out (B & J 2006)

A Woman Needs A Strong Man (B & J 2009)

Telling It Like It Is (Coday 2012)

No Regrets (Coday 2015)

Unplugged (Sweet Success 2019)


 


Tidbits

1.

October 30, 2021: YouTube offerings for Karen Wolfe


Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Older The Berry Sweeter The Juice" Live on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Leave The Light On" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe and Calvin Richardson singing "Stay Together" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "You Ain't Woman Enough" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Man Enough" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "You Ain't No Player" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Stuttering" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Grown Ass Man" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Just Good-Bye" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "A Woman Needs A Strong Man" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Tonight Is The Night" Live In Concert on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe Interview on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Back Door Love Affair" on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Southern Soul Party Mood" Live in Concert on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Man Enough" Live In Concert on YouTube.

Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "That Chick Ain't Me" on YouTube.


Honorary "B" Side

"Man Enough"



5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy That Bitch Ain't Me by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
That Bitch Ain't Me


CD: Unplugged
Label: Coday

Sample or Buy
Unplugged


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Man Enough by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
Man Enough


CD: A Woman Needs A Strong Man
Label: B&J

Sample or Buy
A Woman Needs A Strong Man


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy B.O.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend) by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
B.O.B. (Battery Operated Boyfriend)


CD: No Regrets
Label: Coday

Sample or Buy
No Regrets


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Back Door Love Affair by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
Back Door Love Affair


CD: First Time Out
Label: B&J

Sample or Buy
First Time Out


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy Grown Folk Step (Club Extended Version) by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
Grown Folk Step (Club Extended Version)


CD: Grown Folk Step (Club Extended Version)
Label: Sweet Success

Sample or Buy
Grown Folk Step (Club Extended Version)


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy I'll Leave The Light On (The Single) by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
I'll Leave The Light On (The Single)


CD: I'll Leave The Light On (The Single)
Label: Sweet Success

Sample or Buy
I'll Leave The Light On (The Single)


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy It Ain't That Kind Of Party by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
It Ain't That Kind Of Party


CD: A Woman Needs A Strong Man
Label: B&J

Sample or Buy
A Woman Needs a Strong Man


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy One Good Man by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
One Good Man


CD: A Woman Needs A Strong Man
Label: B&J

Sample or Buy
A Woman Needs A Strong Man


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy You Ain't No Player by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
You Ain't No Player


CD: Telling It Like It Is
Label: Coday

Sample or Buy
Telling It Like It Is


5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 5 Stars 
Sample or Buy You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man  by Karen Wolfe #14 New Generation
You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man


CD: You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man (The Single)
Label: Karen Wolfe

Sample or Buy
You Ain't Woman Enough To Take My Man (The Single)


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