December 24, 2022:
YEAR-END "MINI" REVIEW 8-PACK:
Wilson Meadows, Willie Clayton, Arthur Young, Avail Hollywood, Volton Wright, Big G, LaMorris Williams, Jay Morris Group
JAY MORRIS GROUP: Tell My Story (William J. Morris) With the phenomanal "Knee Deep" (now running at 32 million YouTube views) the Jay Morris Group was the hottest thing in southern soul music as 2022 began. Then the hurricane known as King George made landfall and they were blown away like the sand and the dunes, out into the ocean, out of sight, out of mind. Now, on Thanksgiving 2022, they return with their third studio album, Tell My Story. The dominant first impression of the set is more of the same. Every track is a ballad. The three-part harmonies (Jay, Zee & K-Monique) follow the formula of the group's second album, Long Story Short: contemplative lyrics on personal relationships---melodies and tempos with scarcely any variation. Listening to the album is like listening to one huge, prolonged song.
"4 Fa 4," the group's more lively-tempoed original hit, would sound radical placed amongst these tunes set in the long, strong shadow of "Knee Deep". Speaking of which, the group's blockbuster gets yet another update in "Knee Deep Part 3," where the lost loved one comes back only to be spurned by Zee, who has moved on. (Very lifelike.) The most promising potential single, "I Love It Here," breaks some refreshing new ground production-wise. (Watch for it in Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 Singles for December '22.) "Wanna Be The Woman," showcasing K-Monique, adds a little zest, and "Why," the opening cut, appears to be the group's bid for a new "Knee Deep".
Listen to the Jay Morris Group singing "I Love It Here" on YouTube.
Listen to all the tracks from the Jay Morris Group's new TELL MY STORY album on YouTube.
Listen to all the tracks from The Jay Morris Group's new TELL MY STORY album at Spotify.
Buy The Jay Morris Group's new TELL MY STORY album at Apple.
LAMORRIS WILLIAMS: Mutant: Stolen Dreams (Leonard M. Williams II) Once again, LaMorris Williams has put out two albums in a year (2020)(scroll down). Not only has LaMorris released MUTANT: STOLEN DREAMS---strange title---but another album, Elephant In The Room appeared earlier. The only promotional heads-up I can remember was for the single "From The Country".
LaMorris has opted for a "path less taken" approach to fame. His bookings are minimal, his promotional apparatus...well, there is none, and he may even be disillusioned with the southern soul scene. He may not be turning his back on southern soul, but he refuses to cater to it, and his creative stance carries over into his material. This is not a singer/songwriter searching desperately for a trendy, hit single. (With the possible exception of "For The Country".) It's an artist staying simple and true to himself, recording songs that pique his interest. "If My Girl Can't Come" is a good example. "Best Friend For Life" is another.
"Piece Of Your Love" is the nastiest "grown-folks" song I've heard in awhile. The protagonist is cheating on a wife who "gets off at eleven". "Bad Bitch" has this head-turner: "Wait a minute, baby, I didn't call you nothing. You called yourself a bad bitch. I'm just agreeing with you." LaMorris Williams is into his own world for sure, and more often than not it's musically gorgeous.
Listen to all the tracks from LaMorris Williams' new MUTANT: STOLEN DREAMS on YouTube.
Buy LaMorris Williams' new MUTANT: STOLEN DREAMS album at Apple.
BIG G: My Lucky Day (Cynthia Vaughan) This is something like Big G's twenty-second or twenty-third album (not counting retrospective collections) spanning nearly a quarter-century. The most prominent track and also the first single is "My Lucky Day," a part-bittersweet and part-vindictive lament addressed to a departing partner with lyrics like "Someone else has been getting your love/ It might be the next door neighbor" and "So you're leaving me/ Go on and make my day". The latter is from the chorus, a memorable and sweetly melodic phrase in which Big G is joined by his fine female back-up singer. (#9, Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 Singles, October 2022.)
G dips into his extensive catalog to remix 2008's Heart & Soul album's "Mr. Do Right" without the rap sections and 2009's Coming At You album's "Love On The Beach" with a West Indies musical flair. The best lyric line is "Smell the fresh air/ No one cares what color your skin may be."
Of the new songs, "Honey Love," with voice-overs featuring arguing mates, stands out, as does the dance-tempoed "Everything And More". Also worth checking out is "What About You," a vivid account of lust and temptation, specifically a man after "the woman of my best friend".
Listen to all the tracks from Big G's MY LUCKY DAY album on YouTube.
Buy Big G's MY LUCKY DAY album at Blues Critic.
Buy Big G's new MY LUCKY DAY album at Apple.
VOLTON WRIGHT: Love Me Right (Jones Boyz Ent.) Volton Wright's pandemic-era album LOVE ON YOU was an impressive southern soul debut, all the more so because it kicked off with three hit-single-caliber tunes: "Southern Soul Girl" (feat. T.K. Soul), "Super Woman" (feat. J.D. & Jeter Jones) and "Circles". "Super Woman's" instrumental track, for example, harked back to Michael Jackson's
"Human Nature," with similar romantic ambience.
Wright's new album LOVE ME RIGHT falls short of those auspicious beginnings but does not disappoint, offering even more songs (13 total) with its finest tracks buried within the body of the set. A superb ballad with a delicate melody, a self-contained instrumental track and convincing vocal, "Lost & Found" proves once again that the best southern soul insinuates rather than overwhelms. With the couplet "I was looking for a woman/ She was right there," "She Was Right There" recounts the plaintive regrets of a would-be lover who overlooked the friend who might have been the answer. As they did with Volton's first album, Jeter Jones and R&B Pooh contribute verses and harmonies, making a resounding vocal impression. And finally, "Don't Go," with a simple, climbing chord progression, plies that modest middle ground of southern soul, alternating a soft, caressing vocal style with aggressive, harder-hitting interludes, lifting this simple but memorable melody to the status of an anthem.
Listen to Volton Wright's new LOVE ME RIGHT CD on YouTube.
Listen to Volton Wright's new LOVE ME RIGHT CD on Spotify.
Buy Volton Wright's new LOVE ME RIGHT CD at Apple.
AVAIL HOLLYWOOD: Love, Lies & Loyalty (Avail Hollywood)"I Had To Lie" charted at #6 in Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 Singles for September 2022.
6. "I Had To Lie"------Avail Hollywood
Ms. Jody did a song called "I Had To Lie" and this song by Avail Hollywood is almost as charming, with additional elements to recommend it: Avail's vocal, a superb arrangement, scintillating production, and that super-tasty lead guitar used on 2021's Best Mid-Tempo Song "Dukes & Boots".
Listen to Avail Hollywood singing "I Had To Lie" on YouTube
"Be Careful" is the other major song of the set. Released as a single this past summer, I could find no oharting or commentary on it in my Top 10 Singles or Top 40 Singles, meaning I either didn't think it had hit potential or simply missed it. "Be Careful" has a slow, languid tempo---possibly a reason for overlooking it---but in every other respect the ballad is first-rate, with a pristine instrumental track and typical, make-the-women-swoon, Hollywood vocal. Christopher Estell (aka Avail) has a style as powerful as the tides.
Of course, no Avail Hollywood album would be complete without his trademark theme, a "drinking-slash-wasted" song, and on LOVES, LIES & LOYALTY it's "I Gotta Stop Drinking," complete with the signature horn phrase from the chorus that's been the backbone of "Drinking Again" and "Wasted" and their previously-recorded iterations. "Beautiful Sex" with Methrone is in the same vein, slow and bedroom-ready. All in all, this is a prototypical Avail Hollywood album, perhaps not as cutting-edge as BLACK LOCOMOTIVE but just as swinging, and executed with sophistication, attention to detail and lots of heart.
Listen to all the tracks from Avail Hollywood's new LOVES, LIES & LOYALTY on YouTube.
Listen to all the tracks from Avail Hollywood's LOVES, LIES & LOYALTY album at Spotify.
Sample/Buy Avail Hollywood's new Loves, Lies & Loyalty album at Blues Critic.
Sample/Buy Avail Hollywood's new Love, Lies & Loyalty album at Apple.
ARTHUR YOUNG: Back To The Blues (Summit Boy Ent.) Wow. On first impression, there's more substance in Back To The Blues than in the preceding Vols. 1 & 2 of "Trucker's Blues" put together. At the very least, it's an extremely interesting set, although it does start unassumingly. "It's Friday" and "Bag It Up" are not remakes of Sir Charles Jones' or Nathaniel Kimble's classic singles. I scolded another singer/songwriter---J-Wonn, for using B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone"---just last month, but Arthur evidently skipped that lecture. Speaking of classics, the record from "Back ToThe Blues" that turned my head was "This Time It Was Me," #1 on Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 Southern Soul Singles (October 2022).
Daddy B. Nice's Top 10 "BREAKING" Southern Soul Singles For. . .
1. "This Time It Was Me"-----Arthur Young
This insider's delight muscled its way up the playlist by hook and by crook. Instrumentally, of course, it's a downgrade from Ronnie Lovejoy's magnificent "Sho' Wasn't Me," and at first you'll be fascinated by the relative drop-offs in production as Young faithfully renders the song right down to the legendary female back-up singers. But then, as you continue to hear it with other new music, it grows on you. Not only does Young throw his complete body and spirit into his most tremendous vocal ever. He gets so far into the lyrics he genuinely updates the classic "case of mistaken identity" for the new generation.
Listen to Arthur Young singing "This Time It Was Me" on YouTube.
Re-recording "Sho' Wasn't Me" was the equivalent of walking on sacrilegious ground, yet Arthur Young comes out smelling like a rose. "Back To The Blues" also features the return of "Catfishing," recorded and released the way it should have been in the first place. (Scroll down for prior write-ups on that, and thank you, Arthur.) Two tracks have been solid radio singles this year: the memorable "Country Man" and "Mr. Bartender," featuring Big Yayo, the lone guest artist on the CD.
Also watch for the catchy and libidinous "Chocolate Swirl" and "Can't Be No Fool," the latter with a jooking, "Good Booty Judy"-like rhythm track. There's also a stepping song called "Just Another Friday" that is sure to gain fans. Don't want to be premature, but Back To The Blues sure seems to fulfill the promise the "Trucker's Blues" albums never quite delivered.
Listen to Arthur Young singing all the tracks from BACK TO THE BLUES on YouTube.
Listen to all the tracks from Arthur Young's new BACK TO THE BLUES album at Spotify.
Buy Arthur Young's new BACK TO THE BLUES album at Blues Critic.
Buy Arthur Young's new BACK TO THE BLUES album at Apple.
WILLIE CLAYTON: Caesar Soul & Blues (Endzone Ent.) "Don't Make Me Beg" is the overriding reason to get this CD---or at least the MP3. What a song! While it may not be on the heavenly level of Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman," it is close---a kind of lower-key version. Love, integrity, wisdom and heartache mingle with astonishing force. The vocal rendering never slips. Written by Christopher Forrest and Clayton and performed by an all live band, "Don't Make Me Beg," is exquisitely produced in tandem with Daryl Cooper.
Listen to Willie Clayton singing "Don't Make Me Beg" on YouTube.
The remaining seven tracks (a large EP or small CD) aren't as distinguished across-the-board as its predecessor, the 12-track Soul Caesar, but neither do they detract, buoyed as they are by Willie's all-live band, including the aforementioned producer Cooper and composer Forrest. The mid-tempo "You Can't Beat A Woman" is a potential single. Compositionally speaking, "Find My Way" is nothing to write home about, but Willie gives it one of his best and widest-ranging vocals. Also no great shakes from a writing perspective, "Part Time Lover" and "Oh What A Night" are nevertheless good enough to fill a dance floor.
--Daddy B. Nice
Listen to all the tracks from CAESAR SOUL & BLUES on YouTube.
Buy Willie Clayton's new CAESAR SOUL & BLUES CD at Blues Critic.
WILSON MEADOWS: Wilson, Last Name Meadows (Music Access)In May of this year Meadows published a five-song EP titled Wilson, Last Name Meadows. This new and expanded CD of the same name, Wilson, Last Name Meadows, bolsters the former EP with five additional tunes: two recent radio singles---"Just Hang Tonight" with Sir Charles Jones and "We Doin' Alright" with Beat Flippa---and three formerly-recorded singles, "At-Ti-Tude", "Lady Luck" and "Jump On It".
"Just Hang Tonight" is a splendid Sir Charles production, and Meadows is both made to fit (by Charles) and does fit (all Wilson) seamlessly into the graceful fabric of the song. "We Doin' Alright" is a dance jam with a funk edge, a perfect vehicle for the groove-master Meadows, and Beat Flippa wraps it all in a comforting blanket of horn fills that contrasts the song's gritty rhythm track with a melodic hook that lingers long after listening.
These two singles highlight this new and expanded set. The only other track that comes close to their perfection is the Wilson Meadows classic, "Still My Love," which Wilson has reprised on his last three long-play recordings and whose official video has drawn a jaw-dropping fourteen milllion views on YouTube in less than three years, an unheard-of number for a two-decade-old southern soul standard. (Note that the YouTube link above is not the re-tooled and skillfully-burnished version presented on Wilson, Last Name Meadows.)
Of the last three songs in the set, all taken from 2018's The Facts Of Life, "Lady Luck" arguably best captures Wilson Meadows' unique blend of vulnerability/sensitivity and penchant for smoking hooks.
Listen to Wilson Meadows singing the first five songs (beginning with "I'm Curious") of his new WILSON LAST NAME MEADOWS CD on YouTube.
Buy Wilson Meadows' new WILSON LAST NAME MEADOWS CD at Blues Critic.
September 26, 2022:
J-WONN: Mr. Right Now (Music Access) Five Stars ***** Can't Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven.J'Wonn's "I Got This Record" is this generation's "Sho' Wasn't Me," the most perfect expression in a few verses of an entire era of southern soul, and still the finest southern soul single of the last decade. I've never played it for someone for the first time without them being impressed and genuinely touched. "I Got This Record" is primal in a way nothing J-Wonn has recorded since is. Subsequent albums have been good, even exciting at times, with quality songs more frequently than not, but there have also been tendencies that have been, shall we say, disturbing.
Musically, for one thing, J-Wonn shows a distinct preference for melody over groove, tempo and rhythm tracks, the kind of "bottom" his old mentor Big Yayo used to bring to the table, which has resulted in a bit of a musical imbalance---for lack of a better word an overly "flowery" oeuvre. For another, culturally (and lyrically), J-Wonn indulges in a world view restricted primarily to teen-age angst (extended to twenty-somethings) which for southern-soul-loving grown folks in particular seems far from the urgency and realism of "I Got This Record". If there's a knock on J-Wonn, it's been his tendency to limit himself to an extremely narrow slice of life's experiences---sans marriage, divorce, working life, etc. He's an open book, he asks you to take him as he is---all of which is admirable---but his preoccupations are often trivial or sentimental, something that would never occur to anyone listening to the equally young and raw performer singing his heart out on "I Got This Record".
The good news is that J-Wonn has finally bequeathed us with a spectacular album to match "I Got This Record" and his quiver of glittering singles. Mr. Right Now integrates treble-clef melodies and bass-clef rhythm tracks with masterful alchemy. It also refreshes and recharges J-Wonn's major theme: the male/female dynamic. Close watchers of the southern soul scene will immediately recognize the worthy and radio-friendly "Move On," whose official YouTube video already tops five and a half million views, and "Girl In The Mirror," with a melody so lushly memorable it stands out even in J-Wonn's melodically-rich catalog. Along with the refreshingly uptempo "I'm Impressed," "This Ain't That" and "Meet Me", this quintet of songs is migrated from 2021's Black Heart, The "Move On" EP. In July of this year the indie distribution network Music Access announced the imminent arrival of a new six-track J-Wonn EP titled "Thrill Is Gone". However, J-Wonn evidently decided to hold off on publishing another EP and packaged the "Move On" EP with the new "Thrill Is Gone" set to make an eleven-track album under the title Mr. Right Now.
"Thrill Is Gone" is a solid song, one of the best of the set, and it's received extensive airplay and YouTube response from the fans. Show a little respect for the Godfather, B.B. King, though, Jawonn. J'Cenae recently recorded "Ain't Nobody," making anyone who loves Chaka Khan wince. Don't these youngsters have any sense of musical history? B.B. King used to stay in a special, always-reserved, two-story room in a motel at I-20 & Ellis Ave. in your very hometown of Jackson, MS., Jawonn. If you're going to use the exact same words in the title as an illustrious predecessor (and deleting the "The" in "The Thrill Is Gone" doesn't count), better to do a cover song---an homage. Imagine J-Wonn doing a cover of King's "The Thrill Is Gone". I'd be interested in that. In fact, I'd be interested in anything J-Wonn wanted to cover, from LaMorris Williams' "Impala" (which Jawonn wrote before he got famous) to Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti".
What "Move On," "Thrill Is Gone" and "Girl In The Mirror" signal is that maturity is gradually creeping into J-Wonn's duffel bag of techniques. Even a middle-of-the-road track like "Wantin' More," co-authored with Daniel Ross (aka Beat Flippa), has a deftness that lifts it above J-Wonn's typical fare. And "Mr. Right Now" the strongest and newest cut on the album, is J-Wonn's most outstanding song in quite awhile, with a memorable melody, instrumental track and vocal. Whereas so many of J'Wonn's melody-dominated tunes bloom and die quickly from familiarity, "Mr. Right Now" has that ineffable quality (like "I Got This Record"). Written by David Jones, it's more melodic than J-Wonn's usual melodic stuff, but less obtrusively melodic. Like "I Got This Record," it transcends melody, and J-Wonn sings it like an angel.
The funny thing is "Mr. Right Now" hews to the same juvenile behavior I lamented earlier. Essentially, it's a young guy trying to talk a girl into a one-night stand based on their "animal magnetism" and other well-worn cliches with which women are painfully familiar. J-Wonn even bursts into Spanish at one point---one of the many unique touches that gives the song its special depth and insures it will be replayed long after other songs have faded. It reminds us that any subject can become universal (appeal to everybody) with the right musical ingredients and its singer's conviction. Like some crazy unknown kid telling us he's got a record. And like its title cut, Mr. Right Now the album is the first long-play set of which one can truthfully say J-Wonn fulfills the vaunted promise of his classic single.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy J-Wonn's new MR. RIGHT NOW album at Blues Critic.
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August 22, 2022:
KING GEORGE: Juke Joint Music (Ace Visionz) Five Stars ***** Can't Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven.The dust has finally settled since King George hit us like a ton of bricks. This is a guy who's a shoo-in for Best Debut of the year. What a laugh! That doesn't begin to convey the impact he's had on the southern soul audience. King George is way beyond best debut---he's catapulted to southern soul stardom. And what he's accomplished in the space of a few months isn't easy. If it was, hundreds if not thousands of aspiring southern soul artists would have already done it.
I say "a few months," but the work that went into this year of meteoric success and this greatly-anticipated collection surely took many years. It's evident in the weight and heft of the songs, their melodic richness, their traditional-sounding yet original guitar riffs, and of course the lyrics and the ability of King George's vocals to make the messages instantly believable.
Juke Joint Music brings together the four great songs that made King George a legend: "Keep On Rolling," "Too Long," "Leave And Party" and "Friday Night," supplementing them with three more songs that King George already had recorded---"Love Song," "Be With You" and "Don't Let Me Be Blind"---and adding three more fantastic tracks: the radio-edit of "Keep On Rolling," the duet with Tucka on "Jukebox Lover" and George's new single "Girl You Got It".
In other words, this is exactly what the fans have been clamoring for---with one caveat. Distribution is still dicey. The big sellers---Apple, Amazon, etc.---don't have it (yet). This link takes you to King George's own website, where I just pushed the BUY button (hard copy CD only) and came up with $12.99. Very reasonable for such a once-in-a-lifetime collection, especially compared to E-Bay (below), where a constantly revolving set of buyers and sellers has been maintaining an average sales price between $25 to $30 in a modern-day version of bootlegging out of car trunks in days of old. George could increase the supply by distributing through the major retailers.
Once in a lifetime? Yes, that's how I view this album. A unique, early-career triumph that will probably never again be matched. A fleeting moment---a magical moment---when youth and inspiration fuse into a genuine artistic voice and an artist's identity is sealed forever in a pocketful of seminal songs. Fans never forget that. Ask Sir Charles Jones.
I chronicled my own introduction to King George step by step earlier this year, and most of it concentrated on "Keep On Rollin'" and the crowds of women pumping their fists to "one monkey don't stop no show" at his concerts, although many of the other songs made the Top 10 Singles in the first half of '22. Meanwhile letters poured in. Where can I buy King George? Sales were lost. There was unprecedented demand. Gradually, the King George hoopla subsided somewhat. Music turned to other things...Tucka with "Jukebox Lover," Pokey Bear with "Here Comes Pokey"...
The pause was good for me, and I've come back to King George's music with fresh ears and a renewed appreciation for "Too Long," or "Can't Stay Too Long," which depicts a man who isn't about to get distracted from getting back to the woman waiting for him at home. My own trajectory with "Too Long" went from a kind of apathy---at first I couldn't understand why it had a million views---to a growing fascination with the lyrics---the angelic side of King George as portrayed in "Too Long" as opposed to the devilish side portrayed in "Keep On Rollin'".
Once I got hooked on the lyrics, it brought me back to the music. The chords materialized. I was swept up in the song's current, and I reveled in its instrumental track and vocal. So now, after a half-dozen months of King George, it's "Can't stay too long..." I keep hearing in my head, not "Gon' keep on rollin'..." These two spectacular songs have each garnered around twenty million views on YouTube---about seventeen million more than they had just a few months ago, when three million seemed astounding.
King George is just the latest in a line of hip-hoppers who've crossed over into southern soul music bringing an enhanced mastery of production techniques. Even in an easily-overlooked song like "Friday Night," the production and arrangements, both instrumental and vocal, make you gasp with the care lavished upon them. "Leave And Party," with its marvelous gospel background choruses, aptly captures the muted frustration and impatience of an otherwise hard-working man intent on "getting his party on". Add the sparkling fizz of "Girl You Got It" and you have a set of songs for the ages.
---Daddy B. Nice
Buy hard-copy CD only of King George's new Juke Joint Music at 803KingGeorge.com.
Buy King George's new Juke Joint Music album at E-Bay.
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UNDER CONSTRUCTION! UNDER CONSTANT REVISION!
Send product to:
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Hard copies given preference for CD reviews.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
YEAR-END "MINI" REVIEW 8-PACK: 12-24-22Jay Morris Group, Tell My Story
LaMorris Williams, Mutant: Stolen Dreams
Big G, My Lucky Day
Volton Wright, Love Me Right
Avail Hollywood, Love, Lies & Loyalty
Arthur Young, Back To The Blues
Willie Clayton, Caesar Soul & Blues
Wilson Meadows, Wilson, Last Name Meadows
J-Wonn, Mr. Right Now, 9-26-22
King George, Juke Joint Music, 8-22-22
Various Artists (Ecko), Blues Mix 33: Party Mood Music, 7-10-22 (Scroll down this column.)
Arthur Young, Drank My Liquor & Talk To Me, 6-1-22 (Contained in the Arthur Young Artist Guide. Click link. Scroll down the page to Tidbits #3.)
Highway Heavy, Pinky Ring Music Vol. 2, 4-18-22 (Contained in the Highway Heavy Artist Guide. Click link.)
Nelson Curry, Evolution Of Soul, 4-1-22 (Contained in the Nelson Curry Artist Guide. Click link.)
Sweet Nay, Good Vibes, 3-1-22 (Contained in the Sweet Nay Artist Guide. Click link.)
Various Artists (Ecko), Blues Mix 32: Southern Soul Gold, 2-13-22 (Scroll down this column.)
The Jay Morris Group, Long Story Short, 12-20-21 (Contained in the Jay Morris Group Artist Guide. Click link.)
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.
Send CD's to Daddy B. Nice, P. O. Box 19574, Boulder, Colorado, 80308 to be eligible for review on this page. Or... E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
July 10, 2022:
Various Artists, Blues Mix 33: Party Mood Music
Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy. I had the pleasure of talking with Lee Parker the other day. One of the chitlin' circuit's treasures, Lee goes back to the glory days of Malaco and the early years of Sir Charles Jones and the Love Doctor---in other words, the dawn of contemporary southern soul. At one point Lee mentioned that he talks with Larry Chambers from Ecko Records on a weekly basis. "I'm reviewing their latest Blues Mix sampler," I replied. "Hey," I went on, "When you talk to Larry next week, ask him if he and John (Ward, CEO of Ecko) get together and throw darts at their catalog to come up with these samplers." That got a laugh, but it's not far-fetched. How many song titles with "party" has Ecko published over the years? If not thousands, easily hundreds. Darts just might be the most efficient way to go.
My first impression of Blues Mix 33: Party Mood Music comes in the form of a caution alert. Dancers beware. This is not Pokey singing "Here Come Pokey" or Lil' CJ singing "Step Into My Room" (my last two #1 singles). There's no need to push the furniture against the walls and roll up the carpet. Ecko is not rolling out a sequence of dance jams. The key is "party mood," with the emphasis on "mood," not "party".
Which brings up my second impression of Blues Mix 33. This is more of a "get-your-drink-on"-themed album than a sequence of dance tracks. The "party mood" music is bookended between two Jaye Hammer classics, the ever-popular, plaintively ballad-like "Party Mood" and its syncopated remix, "Party Mood Club Mix". One of those pages---the former---has eleven million views on YouTube, an extraordinary number for an Ecko artist,explaining why you see Hammer increasingly headlining on the lucrative concert circuit.
Sandwiched between are selections from Ecko's voluminous vaults---Quinn Golden, David Brinston, O.B. Buchana, Lee "Shot" Williams, Ms. Jody, Sheba Potts-Wright---sprinkled with tracks by newbies Ben Ether, Ju Evans and Brenda Yancy.
When Jaye Hammer sings that he's in a "party mood," for example, there's a rueful ring to it, like it's coming from the deep well of an introvert/loner---at the least, not a party animal. As you listen to Hammer, you're sensing as much about where he's coming from (a job, a life, a reality and its problems) than where he's going (the party), and seductive as that may be, it's not what everyone thinks of when they think "pahhh-ty".
With the exception of Ms. Jody's "Let's Have A Good Time Remix," for example, dancers may as well skip all the fun. And this appears to be born out as the strains of Ms. Jody's jam fade into Ben Ether's "I Wanna Get My Drink On," where Ben spells it out in no uncertain terms.
"I don't want to dance," he sings. "I want to get my drink on."
O.B. Buchana goes even further with the anti-social "I'm Gonna Party Alone". Pretty sober stuff for a festive party album.
Which brings me to my final and lasting impression of Blues Mix 33," as once again the material rotates like a rotisserie chicken. Just when you think you've got this compilation pegged, O.B. checks in again with the eminently dance-worthy, stepping song, "Swing On". David Brinston---always loose---is reassuringly upbeat in the fast-tempoed "I Wanna Have Some Fun," as is Sheba Potts-Wright in the peppy "Where's The Party At". Quinn Golden's "It's Saturday" has some bonafide party anticipation going for it, and Lee "Shot" Williams---sadly, seemingly forgotten since his demise---offers up the feverish "It's Your Party".
Although they may not have party-goers dancing on the kitchen counters ala Johnny James, these tracks definitely put the "party" back in "party mood". So in the end Blues Mix 33 mimics parties in the real world. There's a little bit of everything: joy, inebriation, camaraderie, longing and loneliness. The only thing lacking is craziness---not really an Ecko thing. Which brings me back to the only plausible explanation for this album's content:
---Daddy B. Nice
Buy Various Artists, Blues Mix 33: Party Mood Music at Select O Hits.
February 13, 2022:
Various Artists (Ecko): Blues Mix 32: Southern Soul Gold
Three Stars *** Solid. The artist's fans will enjoy."I Wanna Chill," which opens up Blues Mix 32: Southern Soul Gold, Ecko's latest sampler, features Brenda Yancy, who reminds me of Stephanie Pickett in that she has the authentic roots, milieu and timing down but lacks first-rate vocal talent. That becomes obvious a few cuts later when you hear Ms. Jody singing "He's Coming In The Back Door" just a middle-of-the-road song for Ms Jody, but one that instantly conveys her singing charisma.
Brenda Yancy made an appearance on an earlier Ecko sampler (Blues Mix #9) a decade ago. Other than that, she's an unknown (Blues Critic calls her a "newcomer") with two new songs on Blues Mix 32. I'm not sure what producer John Ward sees in her to give her such a high-profile platform. Since I've seen her name listed as Brenda Yancy Williams, I've even wondered whether she might be the widow of Ward's late collaborator Morris J. Williams.
The real "southern soul gold" in Blues Mix 32 resides not in the new but the old. Look no further than David Brinston's "Two Way Love Affair" from David's golden (early) age, the era of "Party Til The Lights Go Out" and "Kick It". Or luxuriate in "Back Door Tipper" from O.B. Buchana when he was at the peak of his game. And it's not just the vocalists. The production will give old-timers (anyone listening before 2012) thrills. Deft. Swinging. Comfortable.
And although they're not blockbusters, Jaye Hammer's "Background Check" and "Strawberry Ice Cream Woman" carry on the hallowed tradition of vintage Brinston and Buchana with class and distinction. Stone River Record's prolific Big G appears to be filling the vacuum left by O.B. Buchana's apparent departure from the Ecko label. (O.B.'s latest single came out on Music Access.) G sounds as feisty and engaged as ever on his two featured tracks, one a remix of "I Can't Tell Nobody" with Ms. Jody.
Of the balance of new or nearly-new selections, Ju Evans "Tasty Girl," which charted here a couple of years ago, hasn't aged as well as I thought it would. Too slick and jingle-like for repeated listens, in my opinion. On the other hand, recent arrival Melvino's (Melvin Lee Smith) "Low Down Dirty Blues" has an interesting swagger and should burnish his growing reputation.
---Daddy B. Nice
Buy Blues Mix 32: Southern Soul Gold at Apple.
September 1, 2021:
MS. JODY: Cowboy Style (Ecko) Two Stars ** Dubious. Not much here.The honey-voiced and irrepressible Ms. Jody kicks off her new album Cowboy Style with "I Wanna Celebrate," a tune written by one of her best songwriters, John Cummings (with John Ward). She brings great enthusiasm to the vocal, as does Ward to the instrumental track, which is crisp as a potato chip from a just-opened bag. The track is embellished with solid string and brass accompaniments that add depth. It's followed by "Cowboy Style," which charted on Daddy B Nice's Top 10 Singles at #2 in August, barely missing a #1 showing. "Cowboy Style" sports a similar freshness of sound and even songwriting, with an unfamiliar composer for Ecko, Charles Burton (with Ms. Jody and John Ward), bringing a novel perspective to the legendary Memphis label's usual fare.
"This Ecko-recorded track begins like a Ronald Jefferson, Slacktraxx production," your Daddy B. Nice writes, "with that ubiquitous little, muffled guitar (or keyboard?) pecking sound that Slack has used on countless hit singles. What? Capitulation from Memphis? You can imagine John Ward and company tearing their hair out over the Louisianan's success with this elementary-school sound, but it segues into one of Ms. Jody's finest efforts. After all, Ms. Jody is the mistress of the understated vocal, and as the instrumental track blossoms into a gentle boogie-woogie the song becomes irresistible."
So what makes this collection go "south" so quickly? It begins with the aforementioned "I Wanna Celebrate," which despite its strengths is one of the most pedestrian melodies John Cummings has ever written. Ecko has long relied on the same group of composers. John Cummings, Raymond Moore, Gerod Rayburn, James Jackson, Henderson Thigpen, Rick Lawson, Marshall Jones, Sam Fallie (aka Mr. Sam) and John Ward himself come most readily to mind. Moore and Cummings alone have written hundreds of songs for Ecko over the last twenty-some years, not just for one artist but many artists---Brinston, Buchana, McKnight, Potts-Wright, Hammer and many more.
The problem is the creativity of these prolific songwriters is finite. There's just so much "manna from heaven" (music) any one man is blessed with. And when you multiply the writers' workload by Ecko's policy of an album per artist per year, you begin to understand the uphill climb these songwriters face. What happens in COWBOY STYLE is the compositional weakness one may be inclined to forgive (due to the great execution) in "I Wanna Celebrate" is completely undermined by the third song in the set, "Turn It Up, whose chords have been used on more Ecko tracks than the proverbial old whore. And musical sameness---derived, hackneyed chords and tempos---mar the majority of the remainder of the set.
With the Ms. Jody-written "Let's Have A Good Time," (done twice on the album) anticipation and enthusiasm momentarily revive. Here is a real groove, thanks to writer Vertie Joanne Delapaz (aka Ms. Jody). It's a bewitching and dance-friendly “hook,” providing an opportunity to build on the good will gained from the fresh-sounding "Cowboy Style," but trouble arrives in the guise of the instrumental track. Here Ward has the opportunity to impress with a cutting-edge, monster-groove production that will launch this jam into the hit-single stands. He's done it before (O.B. Buchana's "The Mule" comes to mind) but he swings and he misses. It's the same-old-same-old, programmed rhythm section, just getting by technically speaking---good enough, but not really good enough---lacking any instrumental solos, talking interludes, double-tracking, echo/reverb, additional percussion or auditory novelties that might make the tune memorable. In a word, it’s a missed opportunity in a collection that could use a stand-out track.
The appearance of Big G on "I Can't Tell Nobody" is a welcome sight, and as often occurs with unexpected juxtapositions, Big G's voice is a delight to hear in the context of a Ms. Jody album. However, the song really doesn't get off the ground because Big G himself is challenged compositionally, having himself released an album-per-year of by-now, very familiar material for almost the same length of time as Ms. Jody.
Neil Young sang that "Rust never sleeps," and it may be that after the year off with Covid-19, Ms. Jody and crew have a little rust to shake off. We can usually count on one or two hit singles from a Ms. Jody CD, but other than the title track, the balance of Cowboy Style doesn’t encourage replaying. After three beginning-to-end listenings over a period of days (in addition to many "single" shots), I just didn't want to pick up this album again, and I wouldn't recommend it to a first-time listener hoping to make them a Ms. Jody fan. Few of the indefatigable Ms. Jody’s albums are “classics”---she records too frequently for that---but of the more mediocre collections this may be the most forgettable.
---Daddy B. Nice
Buy Ms. Jody's new Cowboy Style album at Apple.