Daddy B. Nice’s CD Reviews May 2020
May 16, 2020
R.T. Taylor: The Mule Man (Jones Boys Ent.).
Four Stars **** Distinguished Debut By A New Southern Soul Artist
Top Ten Singles December 2019
The Top 25 Southern Soul Songs of 2019 (#8)
2019 Best Debut Nominee
Best Male Vocalist 2019: R.T. Taylor for “It’s A Mule”
These are the entries for R.T. Taylor in Daddy B. Nice’s Comprehensive Index. They were all made since December of 2019, only a few short months ago, based on music from Slack’s My Music My Friends: Southern Soul Compilation.
Daddy B. Nice had raided this bounteous sampler for hit single after hit single in the course of 2019, including tunes by Jeter Jones, Crystal Thomas, Summer Wolfe, P2K DaDiddy, Tha Don and a bevy of exciting newcomers, among them Luziana Wil, Volton Wright, DJ Wildman Tim, Malcom Allen, and Slack (Ronald Jefferson) himself.
And yet, it wasn’t until December 2019, after months of playing the CD over and over, that a “dark horse” charted on Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 Singles. His name was R.T. Taylor–as Bob Dylan once so aptly said, a “complete unknown”. The song: “It’s A Mule”.
2. “It’s A Mule”—–R.T. Taylor
Obscure, from an overlooked album,and from an obscure artist (whose name–even if he was famous–would be hard to remember), this song reminds me of–and makes me feel as good as–the original “Mississippi Boy,” which was just as obscure once upon a time. Like “Mississippi Boy,” “It’s A Mule” doesn’t sound like much at first, but stay with it and you’ll realize it runs on 100% heart. Slack on the track! Read Daddy B. Nice’s five-star review.
Taylor was just as you might have imagined, unassuming, middle-aged-to-older, almost Bishop Bullwinkle-like, but tough-looking and virile, like he’d worked outdoors all his life. (On his Facebook page there are videos of R.T. performing in local venues in street clothes–cowboy hat and boots, jeans and down vest–which seems just about right.) And the juxtaposition of the weather-beaten singer and the astonishingly beautiful young girl in the video (who might have been his grandchild) only reinforced the bizarre chance that such a seasoned and rough-hewn artist would ever see the light of day.
But the voice! Something about the vocal (and certainly the material was part of it) brought out a grit, a soulfulness, a deep, yearning angst that once heard became unforgettable. A new tune by Taylor, “Do You Wanna Party,” charted at #3 in March of 2020. Written by Jeter Jones (who also guested on vocals), “Do You Wanna Party” featured R.T. on a brisker, mid-tempo vehicle, but once again stressed the vocalist’s ability to convey sensitivity–fragility, tenderness–along with hickory-hard, life experience.
Now comes the debut album from this unlikely senior vocalist. The Mule Man features compositions by Rodney Wayne Taylor (R.T.) with help here and there from Jeter and Gary Jones, Vernon Washington and DJ Wildman Tim. The production is by Ronald “Slack” Jefferson, again with input from Taylor. With the exceptions of the mid-tempo, Jones Boyz-penned “Do You Wanna Party” and “Back It Up” (done in two versions, one with Jeter Jones and the other with Tasha Mack and Jeter Jones), the album is mostly a compendium of ballads in Taylor’s inimitable style in which romantic emotions and traditions mingle with details rooted in southern soul’s gritty realism. “Country Woman”knows how to cook R.T.’s food. “She goes in the kitchen with her gown on,” R.T. sings. “She goes in the kitchen with no drawers on.”
In “Southern Soul (We Love You JW)” R.T. sings, “We’re having a party…” Then, a long pause…”At southern soul,” as if southern soul were a place name, leaving the what or where of his “southern soul” a mystery. With a gorgeously fleshed-out instrumental track by Slack and multi-tracked background chorus by Taylor, the kindred ballad “Rock With You” explores the same, romantic yet meditative mystique.
R.T. says that he wrote “Please Talk To Me” seven years ago, and the collection as a whole reinforces the old truism that accompanies strong debuts. Pent-up and unreleased material, in this case made more powerful by the artist’s age, brings a head wind of originality, as in yet another slow jam, “Waitin’ On You”. And in “In It To Win It,” a collaboration with DJ Wildman Tim, producer Slack replicates the rhythm track to Tim’s “Funky Blues,” one of the most irresistible tracks from Slack’s MY MUSIC, MY FRIENDS, to raise the tempo before the set’s close with a remix of “Back It Up” with Tasha Mac and Jeter Jones.
As for “It’s A Mule,” placed fortuitously at the start of the set so you can get your “mule-man” fix instantly, it will take its place as one of southern soul’s classics. Compared with urban R&B or contemporary hiphop, it’s modest and subtle, as are almost all of southern soul’s great songs. But it’s deep. It’ll take you as deep as you want to go–or are in the mood for.
–Daddy B. Nice
May 1, 2020
Uncle Phunk’s Juke Joint, Vol. 1 (Full Of Soul Music/House Of Phunk Music, LLC)
Five Stars ***** Can’t Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven.
The last time I encountered an “uncle” who spelled his name “unkle” was Unkle Eddie. In 2009 Eddie had a novelty hit along the Gulf Coast called I’m Gone Tell Momma” featuring a precocious, borderline-cruel, little girl named Crystal Dylite who amused herself by getting Unkle Eddie into hot water with his long-suffering wife. Of course, Eddie had it coming.
Five years earlier, his single “Black Magic Woman” was the most-requested song on the now-defunct, Pensacola-based, Southern Soul website named Chitlin’ Circuit for what seemed the better part of two years (2004-2005) and became so popular along that stretch of the Gulf Coast that it was played as a Mardi Gras song. Unkle Eddie’s songs were raucous, raggedy-assed and funny in a way we don’t see often nowadays.
Enter Unkle Phunk in 2020. His collection of various artists, Unkle Phunk’s Juke Joint Vol.1, is a welcome return to that kind of loosey-goosey entertainment. Featuring both vintage artists like Stephanie McDee and Vickie Baker and newly-minted entertainers like Jennifer Watts and Crystal Clark, Unkle Phunk’s Juke Joint just happens to be the best southern soul sampler since Slack’s “My Music, My Friends,” awarded the Best Southern Soul Album of 2019.
While Unkle Phunk’s Juke Joint can’t boast the firepower (no Jeter Jones, P2K, Summer Wolfe or Crystal Thomas) nor length (fourteen cuts for Unkle Phunk, nineteen for Slack) of My Music, My Friends, this new collection comes close.
Both samplers have flaws, and Unkle Phunk’s may be worse. Like Highway Heavy, Phunk is marinated in hiphop, and like Heavy and Slack and many other producers, his own solo-artist efforts are the weakest selections of the set. However, Juke Joint’s defects are mainly abortive hiphop/crossover experiments.
The cover art proclaims this is “Southern Soul Hip Hop At Its Finest,” but I would advise otherwise wary fans that with a couple of exceptions, this album is thoroughly rooted in southern soul–the first indicator being that pair of “vintage” ladies mentioned above, Stephanie McDeeand Vickie Baker, both charter members of Daddy B Nice’s Original Top 100 Southern Soul Artists.
Stephanie McDee’s “My Monkey’s Still Talkin'” reworks Stephanie’s first hit single and signature song, “Monkey Talk”. She’s in remarkably feisty form. “Not only can I make it snap, crackle and pop,” McDee sneers. “I can make it speak in five different languages.” Modeled on Nellie “Tiger” Travis’ “Mr. Sexy Man” video, with Stephanie and her ladies dressed up like debutantes, holding court in a limo, the music video is the most enjoyable of Steph’s career.
Vickie Baker’s outing, “Talk In Your Sleep”, is a revelation, a hit from the first time you hear it. With the usual genre modifications, this tune could make it on the Country charts. Impeccably produced, and in a traditional R&B style so different from the rest of the songs that I at first suspected the producer to be Mike Darden, it’s hard to believe it’s not a cover of a standard by someone like the Pointer Sisters. Of course, it’s not “country” in Vickie’s telling. It’s black as night, with the swirling organ background punctuated with brass-section flourishes and the soulfulness delivered in blistering beginning and concluding voice-overs.
And…as it turns out…Unkle Phunk (aka Earl Williams) informed your Daddy B Nice that he DID produce the track. Unkle Phunk can do it all.
I haven’t even gotten to the track that drew me to Unkle Phunk’s Juke Jointin the first place. That would be “Nukie Pie” by Carolyn Staten. For those trying to place Carolyn Staten, I refer you to “Mr. Ain’t Gone Do Right,”perhaps her most well-known tune, produced by the aforementioned Mike Darden. It graces Ladies Night,Staten’s 2018 release, which garnered a five-star review from your Daddy B Nice. The album also contains the one-of-a-kind single that jump-started Carolyn’s career: “Thump Mr. DJ”.
“Nukie Pie” raids the suddenly “in” riff from the 80’s New Wave band Laid Back’s “White Horse,” a jam your Daddy B Nice used to dance to in NYC clubs like Studio 54, Area and Limelight. Now, a generation later, here it is in southern soul–how cool is that?–and Carolyn Staten, the most under-rated female singer in southern soul music, absolutely “mugs” it, obliterating any memory of the original. Jennifer Watts grafts her vocal onto Staten’s tour de force, making it even more powerful, and Unkle Phunk mixes their combined chorus to perfection. The three words, “My, My, My…” never sounded so good.
Next up on the list of enticements is Jennifer Watt’s “Kiss Me Where You Miss Me,” a take-off on the legendary Tyrone Davis’s “Kiss You (Where I Miss You)”. Everything Jennifer Watts does turns pretty-close-to-gold, and her vocal–simple, straightforward and dripping with sexual longing–gives the classic a rock and roll ambience that could attract a whole new audience. The signature guitar lick is the best of any version of the song I’ve ever heard, including the original.
If Unkle Phunk’s Juke Joint appears female-centric, I suppose it is–at least the most successful tracks. The most effective songs by the male gender belong to Luster Baker, aka Mr. Juicy. Luster is probably weary of being referred to as Vickie Baker’s little brother, but here at SouthernSoulRnB we keep the historical record up-front and center. Vickie, by the way, calls Luster the “musical genius” of the family.
Luster appears on the buoyant “Southern Soul Train,” with an enthralling video that perfectly matches the tune’s charm. “That’s My Boo (Remix)” is a redo of Luster’s much more effective original, “That’s My Boo,” whose YouTube video has close to a quarter-million views, an astounding number for a little-known recording artist.
Other men appearing on the sampler include Rodney Gant (“That Nookie”), Phunk Dawg (“Jones On”) and master-of-ceremonies Unkle Phunk with two offerings. Among the female artists not already mentioned are new artist Jinda Harris (aka Lady Songbird), Crystal Clark (raw but robust on her debut “I Don’t Want Your Man”) and Mz. Barbie Dolle, who appears with Jennifer Watts on “Ride That Pony” and whose “Hey Puddy Puddy” is indubitably the most hiphoppy selection of the set.
I don’t want to burden Unkle Phunk’s Juke Joint with too much hype nor suggest it will be as successful as Ronald Jefferson’s “Slack Traxx” opus from last year–it’s too much fun and too modest for all that. Still, it deserves recognition for being the most entertaining southern soul compilation to come out yet this year, and that’s great news for southern soul fans starved for new sounds.
–Daddy B. Nice
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