Daddy B. Nice’s CD Reviews June 2020
June 1, 2020
DEE DEE SIMON: Ahh Hell Queen Dee (Dream, Babyboy Publishing, Charlene Music Publishing)
Three Stars *** Solid. The artist’s fans will enjoy.
As southern soul music grows in popularity, more aspiring R&B artists are casting inquisitive glances at the sub-genre and thinking about the possibilities. Right now southern soul has the insider buzz of early Motown. After all, it is a “smaller pond” than mainstream R&B in which to become a “big fish”.
If that sounds cynical, it’s not meant to be. Disappointment is more appropriate. Attracting performers who might otherwise be making it (or trying to make it) on the urban and hiphop circuits is a boon in talent for southern soul music, but there’s a down side. We now have to worry about losing those artists.
Of course, when you talk about artists crossing from previous genres, the majority of southern soul artists who leave go back to gospel, like Al Green and Peggy Scott-Adams. But now we’re beginning to see young people crossover from urban/hiphop to southern soul and vice versa.
Dee Dee Simon’s “Walk That Dog” (#6 February 2019) and “Big Gun” (#9 September 2019) both charted here and might have been ranked higher, were it not for their very facility and ease of technique raising a red flag. Would the five-octave, already-much-decorated Simon get stuck in that revolving “crossover” door?
Dee Dee Simon made an impression with southern soul fans not only for her vocal agility, but with the great voice-overs in “Big Gun” and “Walk That Dog” (“I don’t want no dog/ That’s been in every yard/ You know what I’m sayin’?”) She seemed instantly comfortable in the genre’s patois. In heft, clarity and directness, Simon was reminiscent of a young Sheba Potts-Wright; in her smooth delivery, Sweet Angel.
But right now I’d rate the chances of Dee Dee Simon staying with southern soul slim. Her most recent singles are solid urban-smooth. Dee Dee is a musical friend of 2 Buck Chuck, who gained favorable review here a couple of years ago, during which time he reverted to an urban format in a subsequent release. The review was a cautionary one, praising his “2 Buck Chuck” debut EP and urging him to stick with the southern soul. Sadly, he hasn’t released any southern soul since.
Dee Dee’s new single, ”Halfway,” is definitely and definitively not southern soul. It’s not on Dee Dee’s new album, Ahh Hell Queen Dee, and that’s good because the contrast in styles is stark. But what will surprise avid southern soul fans about this album is the mingling of two styles–southern soul and urban/electronic/funk–that beget distinctly opposing audiences. If you want melody, story and heart, you go to southern soul. If you want technically-impressive vocals and state-of-the-art instrumental tracks, you go to mainstream R&B. The two don’t mix: they’re like oil and water.
However, Dee Dee Simon has another song, “Da Fire,” that straddles both styles and just missed coming in with a number-one bullet on the southern soul charts earlier this year:
Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 “BREAKING” Southern Soul Singles For. . .
2. “Da Fire”—–Dee Dee Simon
The multi-talented Bay area diva strikes gold with an Isley-inspired tune instructing her enamored to “Put your wood in my fire/ ‘Cause, baby, my flame is running low.”
In April of this year Arthur Young was awarded a 4-star review for his four-song “Funky Forty” debut EP, and that was largely on the basis of only two tremendously popular songs, “Funky Forty” and “Stroking”. If Dee Dee Simon had released a similarly scaled-down EP, including “Big Gun,” “Walk That Dog,” “Upgrade” and the extraordinary “Da Fire” instead of the album she did put out, the ten-song CD Ahh Hell Queen Dee, she would have garnered a 4-star– perhaps even a 5-star rating.
What ruins Simon’s much-hyped and long-awaited CD–for southern soul fans, at least–is the inclusion of incompatible material. I was actually doubly disappointed: first, because there are no new southern soul tunes of note (with one exception to be discussed later); and second, because I was under the impression Ahh Hell Queen Dee would be a southern soul debut. The tunes I already knew as successful southern soul singles are there, intact, but what I expected to be a bagful of new southern soul singles turns out to be something quite different.
Personally, your Daddy B. Nice would like to prescribe Dee Dee Simon a daily afternoon dose of southern soul radio. But here I’m betraying my annoyance with trying to play the CD as a whole, the same irritation I presume is experienced by the die-hard, urban-funk fan who doesn’t want to hear any southern soul. The point is, it would have been far better for Dee Dee to present her southern soul songs in a generous EP and throw everything else out. (Or if that’s a little harsh. Package for a different audience?)
“Dee Dee Slide” samples an early–almost Sugarhill-early–era rap. It’s Afrika Bambaataa-percussive. It doesn’t work as southern soul, and it’s no fun to listen to, unless you’re into history. “I Can’t Leave Him Alone” is terrible. Who needs to live 80’s and 90’s funk over again? It’s like Dee Dee has lifted her backing band out of a time capsule.
“Put It On Him” is the one new song that might qualify as a southern soul single. Dee Dee can sing southern soul when she puts her mind to it. Both the foreground and background vocal tracks are excellent. Like the other “greats” (chops-wise) before her, she’s restrained (think Bobby Blue Bland), leaving her technique and power implied. And not to forget: the light zydeco button accordion is an endearing touch.
But then, back to the common-denominator funk with “Slow Motion”. Again, the listener is yanked into another musical genre–with a backing band so vintage it’s wrapped in vacuum-seal. “Shake That Derrier” is more of the same, a smooth-jazzy, percussive arrangement and a slick, urban vocal. Funk inspiration doesn’t have to come this freeze-dried.
For a look at a tune that qualifies as southern soul because it is doing something original with “funk,” check out Chrissy Luvz’s new jam, “I Sing Da Blues”. Of course, an even more well-known example of funk transformed into southern soul, (and one composed by a legendary southern soul songwriter, Floyd Hamberlin), is Nellie “Tiger” Travis’s “Mr. Sexy Man”. It can be done.
But in the end, to cross-over and back-and-forth with urban/smooth and urban/funk betrays an underlying disrespect for southern soul music. Like, what? You can’t get a whole album of southern soul together? With her formidable talents, Dee Dee Simon could easily do just about any southern soul LP project imaginable. The only new song on Ahh Hell Queen Dee that truly qualifies as southern soul, “Put It On Him,” more than proves that.
–Daddy B. Nice
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