Daddy B. Nice’s CD Reviews November 2019
November 17, 2019
SLACK: My Music, My Friends: Southern Soul Compilation (SlackTraxx / XLP)
Five Stars ***** Can’t Miss. Pure Southern Soul Heaven
Relegated to behind-the-scenes, producer-composers are the life blood of southern soul music. Floyd Hamberlin (Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Will T.), John Ward (O.B. Buchana, Ms. Jody), Charles “Highway Heavy” Lewis (Pokey Bear, ColdDrank), Christopher “Big Yayo” Mabry (LaMorris Williams, J-Wonn) and Daniel “Beat Flippa” Ross (Jeter Jones, The Louisiana Blues Brothas) are the current heavyweights, taking over from early-century legends like Harrison Calloway, Charles Richard Cason, Senator Jones and Jimmy Lewis. And with the release of Slack’s My Music My Friends: Southern Soul Compilation, we can now add another composer/producer to this list of luminaries: Ronald “Slack” Jefferson, 2018’s Southern Soul Producer of the Year.
Jefferson produced P2K DaDiddy’s remarkable 2018 debut, Welcome To Da Boom Boom Room, in addition to working on Jeter Jones’s panoramic Dhis Him and Lady Q’s debut, Class ‘N Session.
This record hasn’t been given the acclaim it’s due. I look at the charts just six months after the release and there’s not a sign of it, although far less valuable samplers abound. You can put this record on the top shelf with Beat Flippa’s I Got the Blues, Vol.1, which pretty much wrote the current “book” on southern soul samplers. Like that much-heralded 2015 compilation, Slack’s new Slack: My Music, My Friends not only introduces a raft of worthy new recording artists (along with some stars). It announces the emergence of a true southern soul impresario, from whom we may expect a (hopefully) steady stream of music in his intoxicating style for years to come.
Jefferson doesn’t have the hiphop-influenced, instrumental finesse of fellow Louisianans Beat Flippa and Highway Heavy. (They’re from Baton Rouge, he’s from Shreveport.) Slack has a more casual and/or modest (some might say traditional) style befitting Memphis’s Ward or Chicago’s Hamberlin. He’s not going to wow you with technique–just get the message across in the most accessible and mesmerizing way.
Slack’s love for melody is his biggest strength. Indeed, he sometimes errs a little too much on the popular–that is, the “pop” side–of composition, as in one of a couple of songs he performs himself, “Don’t Cry,” which verges on the sentimental. Of course, Slack isn’t his own best interpreter. In the hands of any of the powerful singers gathered together on this set, the tune’s impact would be magnified and perhaps transformed into a gritty anthem.
But make no mistake…Melody rules. Hooks rule. Slack’s colleagues would kill for some of these melodies and hooks. Just reading a list of the compilation’s nineteen–yes, nineteen, no filler–songs is to recognize some of the most familiar and enjoyable sounds from this past summer’s playlists:
Consistently musical, with a variety that holds your attention, the sampler gets better and better the more you play it. The songs benefit from the surrounding quality, too. Here’s a necessarily brief snapshot of the album’s sprawling content:
“That Thang” – Volton Wright
This opening track is representative of the whole album–casual, accessible, catchy, unsophisticated. It doesn’t bowl you over; it’s just steady rocking in the best southern soul sense.
“We Came To Party” – Jeter Jones
In Jeter’s recent, understated style (“Black Horse,” etc.), this is Jeter Jones at the top of his game.
“Got To Find Me A Lover” – Malcom Allen
Written and sung by a great new vocalist. Think Stan Mosley. The verses roll along, ending in choruses in which Allen riffs responsively to a female background singer.
“Teach You How To Love Me” – Crystal Thomas
All Crystal really needs to do to become a dominant, first-rank, southern soul vocalist is simply record more songs.
“Just Another Day” – P2K
More easy-going, melodic southern soul. No one keeps it as simple and informal as the charm-master, Keith “P2K” Taylor.
“Country Party” – DJ Wildman Tim
Everyone on this album knows their southern soul. As the pre-song drop says, “We’re about to go to the juke joint, the hole in the wall, the sugar shack, the place called Annie Mae’s.” Great bass line.
“It’s A Mule” – R.T. Taylor
In a set spilling over with hit singles, this may be the most durable single of all. “It’s not no goddamned pony / It’s a mule.” Another notable new vocalist.
“It’s Your Day” – Slack
A stepping song transformed into a romantic aria.
“All The Way Lover” – Ci Kelly
Kelly is a female artist with an urban r&b/jazz pedigree, and the tune successfully combines funk elements with a show-tune gloss.
“I Wanna Know” – Luziana Will
The singer has a novelty-song approach, talking more than singing, and (along the way) referencing Frankie Beverly, Pokey Bear, Marvin Gaye, Sir Charles Jones and more.
“Funky Blues” – DJ Wildman Tim
It’s really a novelty song with a nursery-rhyme simplicity, terrific melody line and slinky/funky rhythm track.
“What You Looking For” – Luziana Will feat. Crystal Thomas
Luziana Will has a nasal twang that’s authentically rural. Crystal Thomas brings utter credibility to this duet focused on Wilson Meadow’s iconic “Still My Love”.
“Love Don’t Live In This House” – Tha Don
Introspective ballad filled with sadness and regret.
“Hoe To A Husband” – Summer Wolfe
One of the young diva’s best songs yet. Beautiful melody. The verses roll out with skill and charm.
“Don’t Cry” – Slack feat. Dee Shepherd
“I Never Thought” – Who Am I
“Over Now” – Tony Sullivan
“Gave My Heart To The Wrong Man” – Tanji Emmeni
“Change Gone Come” – Franky Vocals
If there is a fallow section in this bounteous collection, it is probably the last few tracks (including the four songs above). They’re not terrible projects; in fact, they’re not even poor and generic enough to be labeled “filler”. However, these culminating tracks don’t shimmer and shine with identity and charisma, as do the almost two albums worth of material that precedes. The reprise of Sam Cook’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is done acapella, and although it might seem presumptuous on an ordinary sampler, on this set it seems apt and even perfect, like a reminder of the inspiration that generated this explosion of talent and tunefulness. Put another way, this album has earned the right to cover Sam Cooke’s signature song. Slack: My Music, My Friends is by far the best southern soul sampler of 2019.
–Daddy B. Nice
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