Daddy B. Nice’s New CD/Albums Reviews
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
AVAIL HOLLYWOOD: Love, Lies & Loyalty (Avail Hollywood)
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”.
“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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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