Daddy B. Nice’s CD Reviews September 2021
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 Styledoesn’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
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