Daddy B. Nice’s CD Reviews 2022

December 10, 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.



October 1, 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.

 



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:

Darts, anyone?

—Daddy B. Nice

Buy Various Artists, Blues Mix 33: Party Mood Music at Select O Hits.



June 1, 2022

Arthur Young: Drank My Liquor & Talk To Me (Summit Entertainment)

Three Stars *** Solid. The artists’ fans will enjoy.

 

 

The entertainingly-titled Drank My Liquor & Talk To Me is Arthur Young’s third long-play album in three consecutive years, not to mention his Funky Forty EP and a slew of single releases. The man is nothing if not prolific, so the cover art featuring a sleepy or sleeping Young sprawled drunk against the big tire of his eighteen-wheeler with a cowboy hat over his eyes, a bottle in one hand and a towel hanging from his teeth to his chest can be taken as well-earned exhaustion.

And yet this avalanche of new music from the irrepressible singer/songwriter is unsettling. While the musical largesse is a boon for us fans, nothing on Young’s three albums has come close to the hit power (backed up by many millions of YouTube views) of his classic, “Funky Forty”.

Drank My Liquor hews to the formula of the preceding “Trucker’s Blues” albums: one-take (or seemingly one-take) studio tracks with comely melodies and witty lyrics with little thought to distinctive production. The accumulated creativity is amazing (i.e. listening to the entire album), but the results of any one single are tepid.

A few tracks stand out, for instance “Welcome To the Country,” which features a different, harder-edged delivery, or “Grandma Drawers,” which traffics in the novelty-song milieu Stan Butler mined in his “Grandma In The Club,” or “Mr. Hide And Go Get It,” which basks in the chunka-chunka schtick of Marvin Sease with nods to Theodis Ealey.

The best of the lot may be “Boom Shakalaka,” which benefits from its similarity to “Funky Forty” and also a unique guitar riff—a small embellishment that does wonders. But ultimately the ceiling for even these songs is pretty low, although higher than middlin’ tracks like “Push And Pull,” “Putting In Work,” “Too Damn Good,” “Wrong Door,” “I Wanna Be Your Freak” and “Hit It Again”.

Let’s face it. Arthur Young could be this generation’s Tyrone Davis, but he just hasn’t yet found the ease, facility and judgment of the Master. Expectations… What a bitch. Tyrone scored more often than not with his singles. Then again Tyrone had great producers. For the most part, Young appears to be going it on his own, “bare-bones” style, or if “shopping it out” doing so with draconian restrictions. No enhanced arrangements, no instrumental additions, no bridges or tweaks, no background singers, and really not much attention to a solid rhythm section or “groove”.

Another of Young’s influences is O.B. Buchana, and as great as The Master O.B.-1 is, he recorded a lot of music (with a lot of frequency, just like Arthur Young) that didn’t “stick” as opposed to, say, an artist like Nellie Travis, who would go long—and at the time seemingly barren—intervals before putting out a monster single. I’m not saying one way is better than the other. But O.B. could have used more mid-career hits, as could Young now.

Which brings me to the question that I’ve been circling since the outset. Is Arthur Young stuck in artiste mode? (See French New Wave film directors.) Is he rushing the material rather than going for a home-run record, a true “funky forty” follow-up? Because it seems strange to be leaving a new Arthur Young album without a hummable song on my lips. Not even a “Good Booty Judy”!

—Daddy B. Nice

Buy Arthur Young’s Drank My Liquor & Talk To Me album at Apple.

Listen to all the tracks from Arthur Young’s “Drank My Liquor & Talk To Me” album on YouTube.

Arthur Young is now the #17-ranked (!) recording artist on Daddy B. Nice’s NEW GENERATION SOUTHERN SOUL chart. Read the Artist Guide.

 



May 1, 2022

HIGHWAY HEAVY: Pinky Ring Music Vol. 2 (Pinky Ring Music)

Five Stars ***** Can’t Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven!

Pinky Ring Music has been waiting in the wings behind submitted material on my must-do list for quite some time now. Highway Heavy (aka Baton Rouge’s Charles Lewis) never submits anything. It simply appears on YouTube, like a feather quietly floating to earth. The only time I ever heard from Highway Heavy was one of those “you-don’t-see-me” rants I get from time to time, from an artist who believes he’s been unjustly overlooked, which Highway Heavy was at the time.

And the communication was critical because Lewis told me the story behind “My Sidepiece,” first released on the Louisiana Blues Brothas’ “Love On The Bayou” but later just associated with Big Pokey Bear. Namely, that he, Highway Heavy, not Beat Flippa, had written and produced it. Lewis first took it to Coldrank, but Coldrank turned it down as too provocative for his style. Heavy then took it to Pokey Bear, who embraced it, added some brilliant lyrics and sang it to stardom. Beat Flippa (Daniel Ross) came in as overall producer and played keyboards on the iconic organ riff. Neither Coldrank or Beat Flippa has ever come forward to dispute that account, despite ample opportunity.

Highway Heavy, however, has maintained a strange, aloof and hermit-like stature on the hiphop flank of southern soul ever since, his only gesture to “reaching out” his prized YouTube videos recorded in the empty, eerily traffic-less streets of pre-dawn Baton Rouge. One of his eccentricities is flouting the tradition that a producer should be content with staying in the background. Although he doesn’t perform or tour, he gives himself featured billing for each song (i.e. Highway Heavy featuring so-and-so…) and subs out the vocals, crediting the singers as “featured” artists.

But despite his vanities Highway Heavy has created an undeniably original sound. Along with Beat Flippa and Slacktraxx (Ronald Jefferson), he is one of the triad of most reliable creative forces in Louisiana. The music always begins with the keyboards, but to call them merely “keyboards” doesn’t do justice to the rich, full, luxuriant sound Heavy coaxes out of his keys. It’s an organ straight out of the church, evoking grace, reverence and transcendence, as if it were rolled down the cathedral steps and given a new, carnal life in the vernacular of the streets.

The “featured” performers in this densely-packed, sixteen-track album comprise a “who’s who” of southern soul notables—Big Pokey Bear, Tyree Neal, Crystal Thomas, Omar Cunningham, Coldrank, Dave Mack, Champagne, Robert Butler, Johnny James, Fya Redd, C Loc and Cizzle—cavorting in and around the capital city with champagne in hand in spinner-decorated cars like the Baton Rouge version of Manhattan trust-funders. The tracks alternate between the fast and slow, but (surprisingly for a hiphop-forged ethic) the emphasis is on the ballads and mid-tempo vehicles tending to the languid and romantic.

Highway Heavy isn’t big on verses and chorus, much less bridges. He’s content to seize a good riff and turn it over and over, basting its modest expectations with unfailingly sophisticated production and mixing, the latter always dominated by his trademark, deep-soul organ.

“Rain,” with gravelly-voiced Johnny James—the Tom Waits of southern soul—on lead vocals, is a good example of how Heavy blends piano and organ, with the piano in the foreground for a change. And when Tyree Neal joins in with his tasty guitar-picking, as in “Stella,” the music rises to an even more ethereal level.

But the base is always the Charles Lewis organ. The songs do sound all alike. You know immediately it’s a Highway Heavy song—which is both a strength and a flaw. “Ride With Me (Reloaded),” with rapper C Loc, Tyree Neal, Johnny James and Robert Butler, is a good illustration of the pitfalls of the dripping-faucet, repetitive sound. On a Monday I might love it; on a Wednesday the repetition might annoy me to hell.

And yet the strengths far outweigh the flaws. The sheer musicality of songs like “I Think I’m In Love” (Coldrank), “Missing You” (Dave Mack) and “Private Party” (Dave Mack, Tyree Neal) is undeniable, and the tunes with their deep-soul keyboards linger long after hearing.

The epitome of this floating-on-clouds ecstasy occurs in “Mouth On You,” the song that made Champagne infamous, in which Heavy’s incredible organ and Tyree Neal’s exquisite guitar combine on an instrumental track worth the price of admission before Champagne even opens her mouth. Yes, that’s a pun. And yes, this is the scandalous but dead-on accurate primer on blow jobs whose YouTube page was finally taken down—evidently still as lyrically shocking today as Clarence Carter’s “Strokin'” was to a far-more uptight and upright audience a half-century ago.

But disregarding the lyrics, the instrumental track to “Mouth On You” alone makes for heavenly listening. And on Pinky Ring 2, when “Mouth On You” segues into “Wrong Man” (Fya Redd, Omar Cunningham), it’s a back-to-back musical experience second to none and a nifty summation of Highway Heavy at his best. And if you don’t have Pinky Ring Music Vol. 2 (released in ’21), you’re missing out on a legitimate niche of southern soul music of the last half-decade.

By the way, in that initial conversation with Charles Lewis, years before he had thought of putting his music into compilations like Beat Flippa, he said, “We call it pinky ring music.” “What do you mean by pinky ring?” I asked. Lewis explained that it was all about the “bling,” the rap term for money. “Pinky ring” is how many diamonds you put on your fingers, and Highway Heavy has stayed true to that hiphop/gangsta context more than southern soul.

I mention this now because I’m not so sure Highway Heavy will continue his southern soul journey. The songs and their videos have diminished over the last year, and Heavy has even posted a couple of YouTube videos of himself doing rap (not recommended). So enjoy the music while you can. Who knows how long or how much is still coming? Although I do see a new Highway Heavy song sung by Champagne—“50 Bottles”—with a rap interlude by Highway Heavy just posted a few days ago. We shall see.

—Daddy B. Nice



April 1, 2022

Nelson Curry: Evolution Of The Blues (Neo Blues Music)

Four Stars **** Distinguished effort. Should please old fans and gain new.

 

Nelson Curry’s new album, EVOLUTION OF SOUL, comes eleven years after North Augusta, South Carolina’s Klass Band Brotherhood (formerly Le Klass) blew up southern soul radio with “Sugaa Shack” from their 2011 “Out Of The Shadows Of Soul CD. Curry parted with the band (including his brother Allen) shortly after their second album “We Call The Shots In Soul,” which included another classic hit single, “Dance Floor”. And although Nelson has enjoyed a successful solo career, including winning Daddy B. Nice’s Best Male Vocalist of 2018 for “Same Hotel,” like Tre’ Williams after leaving The Revelations he has never regained the live-band heights he experienced with Klass’s national Blues Is Alright touring after “Sugaa Shack”.

Perhaps aware of that discrepancy, Evolution Of Soul slips somewhat tentatively into the musical action with “Drinks On Me” and “Liquor House,” picks up gradually beginning with “Pop That Lady” and “Pop That Thang” and really hits stride with “Party With Friends”. This mid-tempo gem segues into a stirring personal hymn, “Father, Father” with universal qualities that reverberate long after the play ends. Next up is “Juke Joint,” a light-as-a-feather, sugar-shack-like club jam. Both songs charted on Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 Singles back to back in February and March.

Nor is Nelson averse to delving further into the past, reviving and reprising “Honey Hole” from Klass’s first album. “You Deserve Better” gives Curry a chance to stretch out on a majestic-tempoed ballad as well as a theme current in southern soul, as does “Big Thick,” which Curry at one time considered as a thematic thread for the entire album.

Curry returns to personal reminiscence in “Mamma,” and although not as successful as “Father, Father,” the memories embedded in the lyrics imbue Curry’s already sonorous vocal skills with an added dimension of emotional depth, and fittingly, the set culminates with a tune—“Sweet As Apple Pie”—that turns the personal back into the universal.

From “Sugaa Shack” with live bandmates to “Party Starter” with rappers Joe Nice and Blackfist, Nelson Curry has proven time and again that his carillon-pealing tenor can adapt to an amazing variety of influences. With its bazaar of styles and quirky, street-sourced interludes, Evolution Of Soul could easily have wound up a mess. Yet everything is pleasing to the ear and all of a fabric—all held together by Nelson Curry’s trademark soulfulness.

—Daddy B. Nice



March 1, 2022

Sweet Nay: Good Vibes (It’s A Party)— (Been A Boss Records)

Four Stars **** Distinguished Debut by a New Southern Soul Artist.

Most debut albums feature a hodgepodge of styles due to first-time-out uncertainty about artistic identity. That’s not the case with Sweet Nay’s first long-play release, Good Vibes (It’s A Party). Versatile, yes. But although there’s variety from zydeco to r&b, the thick caramel center is pure, on-the-mark southern soul.

Sweet Nay’s been quietly accumulating accomplished southern soul singles for three years. Many people don’t realize she sang on Jeter Jones’ “I Ain’t Gone Cheat No More” in 2018, the same year she broke into southern soul with her first big single, “Do You (If I Ain’t The One),” a lush, finely-sung ballad not soon forgotten. Written by Sweet Nay and produced by Lawrence Lee, it charted on Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 Singles in July of that summer.

Sweet Nay (the stage name of Shreveport native Renee Caldwell) actually has some of the qualities of her near-namesake, Memphis’s Sweet Angel. Like the latter, Sweet Nay tends toward a slicker, produced-to-a-sheen style. She’s also a flamboyant, multi-talented alpha female who does most of her own writing, with previous credits on Carl Sims “Hell On My Hands” and others.

Listen to “I’ve Been A Boss” and you’ll get an idea of the energy and pounding-the-pavement it took for Caldwell to bring this ambitious project to completion. She’s taken the utmost care and patience in presenting her music, working with the finest producers in the business to showcase her songs.

Beat Flippa produced the catchy club jam “Been A Boss,” while Ron G. Suggs produced “Thick Thighs” and “Cloud Nine”. Even the peripatetic Omar Cunningham shares writing credits with Nay on the Bo Richardson-produced “Get Closer”.

“Whooped (I Put That Nookie On Him)” won the #3 spot in Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 Singles for February 2022, while Sweet Nay’s duet with Poka Jones, “Thunder And Showers” took the #6 spot on the same month’s charts. “Whooped” was written by Sweet Nay & P2K Dadiddy and produced by Avail Hollywood. “Thunder and Showers” was written by Sweet Nay & Poka Jones and produced by Neal Jones.

The high-profile collaborations on the set include “Action” featuring Roi Chip Anthony and “When We Make Love” featuring Avail Hollywood, both of whom bring their considerable production skills to Nay’s table. Anthony also produced the title track, “Good Vibes”.

Chris “Bubba” Washington produced “Just What I Need,” the sumptious anthem “You’re A Queen” and “Door #1,” which tweaks the old story of the “lady and the tiger,” but behind which door? Sweet Nay frames it as a romantic triangle and sheds no tears for the man who made the disastrous choice.

As debuts go, “Good Vibes” is one of the most wide-ranging and masterful in recent memory.

–Daddy B. Nice

Buy Sweet Nay’s Debut CD Good Vibes at Apple.



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.



January 1, 2022

THE JAY MORRIS GROUP: Long Story Short (Jay Morris Group)

Five Stars ***** Can’t Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven.

The Jay Morris Group hails from Greenwood, Mississippi. The group consists of brother Jay Morris and sister K. Monique (“same mom, same dad” Jay adds) and Jay’s best friend Zee Brownlow. In September of 2018 their first single, Ms. Wendy, charted on Daddy B. Nice’s Top 10 “Breaking” Southern Soul Singles under the artist title Jay Morris featuring Mario Brownlow. Subsequently, the song was released as “4 Fa 4” by the Jay Morris Group and went on to collect over 5 million views on its various YouTube pages.

Meanwhile, a companion single, “Happy Weight,” was released and became equally popular, charting on Daddy B. Nice’s Singles in January of 2020. Both songs catered to a subject dear to southern soul fans: that weight and heft in a woman can be beautiful and sexy. Both songs were rolled into a bountiful, sixteen-song collection titled Like Food To My Soul, published in 2019.

And yet, as popular as “4 Fa 4” and “Happy Weight” became, their fame was eclipsed by the new single, “Knee Deep,” a sensitive ballad sung by Zee Brownlow exploring the nuances between friendship and love. The tune blew up its YouTube page, gaining some 12 million views on its official music video. “Knee Deep” struck chords with the audience no southern soul song had accomplished since Bishop Bullwinkle’s “Hell Naw To The Naw Naw,” catapulting the Jay Morris Group to headliner status on the chitlin’ circuit.

Now comes the Jay Morris Group’s second album, Long Story Short, and it is a revelation. Both in style and substance, Long Story Short picks up where Like Food To My Soul left off, continuing the story of “Knee Deep” with the “bad dream” of thoughts of “her with another man”. “I don’t like the way that feels,” Zee Brownlow sings. He doesn’t want to be a “hater,” but his feelings overwhelm him as he watches the new boyfriend kneeling in front of his former enamored with a ring in hand. “I want to see her happy,” Zee confesses, “but not happy with him.” “Still knee deep in my feelings,” looking at things from the outside. The song is called “Knee Deep Part II,” and it kicks off the new album.

But wait. The Jay Morris Group isn’t lacking for inspiration by focusing on the past (and their most successful tune). They’re just getting started. And if you thought the short stories contained in the songs on FOOD FOR MY SOUL couldn’t possibly get any better, you would be wrong. In “My Baby Don’t Love Me No More” Jay Morris not only describes another heartfelt relationship gone south but embeds it in an original instrumental track as good or better than “Knee Deep’s”. And just when you think the tune might flag, KMonique cuts in with a verse from the women’s perspective. “They say a woman loves too early, and a man too late,” and she goes on to explain her progress from romance to mere familiarity just the way women do in real life, and suddenly you realize this album is dealing with reality in ways you’ve seldom heard on record.

If there’s one fear skeptics will entertain as this album proceeds, it’s along the lines of sheer awe. Like, “I don’t know how long they can keep it up…” Meaning: creating these vivid, intricately-told, above all realistic stories within songs. And yet, one by one, the new songs demolish those fears. “How Can You Love Me” is just what the album advertises, a “long story short”. And although told from the man’s perspective, the finely-toned KMonique comes in with the woman’s point of view in the end. Those interludes—about as close to a formula as Jay Morris gets—provide exquisite contrast.

And for those worried that the melodies and instrumental tracks might get repetitive under all those airy harmonies and wordy monologues, “How Can You Love Me” has a great instrumental sound—an idiosyncratic guitar lick clucking over a traditional piano’s chording, reserving the more familiar, high-pitched, Jay Morris-style keyboard/organ for the choruses.

Ironically, for a vocal trio who profess not to play any of the musical instruments on their records, the Jay Morris Group has an interesting, competent, live-feeling, instrumental sound. “Send Me That Cashapp” begins almost like an acapella track but morphs into a gracefully textured musical background.
“Still Pay The Bills” uses that familiar fuzzy, treble-clef, almost kazoo-like, keyboard-organ sound we associate with the group. The song is a typical southern soul message, but for the Jay Morris group it almost sounds overly simplistic. “Southern Soul Party,” featuring Jeter Jones, sounds better now than when it came out a year ago.

But the latter tunes are relative filler in an album that obsesses in the day-to-day confrontations between the sexes, songs like “Give Me Some Credit” and “It Sounds Like I’m Lying”. Is it any wonder the group has attracted legions of fans? Like some modern-day Dylan, they’re talking about things that normally aren’t addressed in song, and they make it work musically. And yet, so talky! So many words. So many thoughts. After awhile you’re excused for thinking you’re the Jay Morris Group’s psychiatrist, psychologist and/or spiritual healer, with them sprawled on your couch, talking stream-of-consciousness.

But it’s great. It’s different. It’s original. Not to make any literal comparisons, but it did remind me of when I was young, and how we looked forward to each new Beatles album because we knew it was going to be different and exciting. It’s kinda like that with this sophomore disc from Jay Morris. You want to hear what they’ve come up with. Soulful, original, apparently without antecedent (although they pay tribute to southern soul stars at discreet moments), this music appears to be nothing less than a new blues for the younger generation.

—Daddy B. Nice



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