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Southern Soul Corner April 2015

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Corner Talk:  It is great to see new albums over the last month from some of the prominent divas of Southern Soul. We have several reviewed below here in this month's column along with a few of the new releases from the male vocalists as well. The new album releases just keep falling off the shelf, a steady flow! Focus on any new single releases will wait until our next Top 45 chart comes out in May, since singles have slowed down in the mail a bit in recent weeks. This will also allow time to sort through all the new albums as well to see what singles need to be on the chart.  Albums that we have not yet reviewed but plan to next time are the Greatest Hits collections just recently issued by Music Access for Stephanie Pickett, Ricky White and the late Lee Shot Williams. Also, we will catch up on the new one from Lil Jimmie and the posthumous release of some of the great tunes of the late Bobbye 'Doll' Johnson.  We will certainly give them some space in the May edition.

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It has been awhile (actually since November 2013) since we have seen a new album release from Ecko recording superstar Ms. Jody. One key reason: her It's All About Me album had so many potential hit tunes on it that it took several months for them all to come to the forefront. Although I would have to say that Denise LaSalle is still the reigning Queen, no female has made the impact that Jody has in Southern Soul over the last ten years. With nine previous album releases and a whole multitude of hit singles, the Bay Springs, Mississippi native's popularity in the genre grows with each passing day. From I Never Take a Day A Day Off on her first release to The Rock on her last, Jody has consistently produced the groove that leaves the audiences clamoring for more!

 

Jody's latest, Talkin' Bout My Good Thang (gotta love the brilliant colors in the album cover!), has an official release date of April 17th. It is another of what we have become accustomed to on her releases - there are so many good tunes on the album, it is hard to pick just one or two to push. The title track is a mellow groove that has Jody holding back somewhat in second gear. Gotta love the frenetic jam of Shake A Tail Feather and the straight ahead groove of I Ain't Gonne Lie This Time. The theme reprise of Just Let Me Ride Again follows up big on the song I thought was way underrated as a hitmaker on the Still Strokin' album.  Holding with tradition, John Ward and Larry Chambers at Ecko try to insure that every artist release has one or two tunes that work well at North Myrtle Beach.  You Got Your Hooks In Me certainly fills that bill - Don't Say I Love You could also make it to the dance floor at Fat Harolds Beach Club! A Piece On The Side is definitely a ditty for grown folkz! I hear Jody exercising those strong vocal chops on the awesome Doubler Dealer. If He Knew What I Was Thinking will command some DJ attention. Twelve tracks here, loved by her audiences everywhere, she is so popular that I have decided to now call Jody.... Ms. Dynamite!!

   

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Intriguing, innovative, exciting, amazing - all superlative adjectives that have been used in recent months to describe the singing talents of Jr Blu. The R&B/Soul singer from Mississippi has been tagged as 'New Old School'. Being brand new in the genre, there is not alot of information available out there on Jr. He did state that growing up, he was influenced by his father's love of the music of such greats as Al Green, Marvin Gaye and Tyrone Davis. Jr also mentioned the Memphis influence of the late great Bobby 'Blue' Bland as having an impact on his style.  There was a release party held for his new album, Tru Blu, at the Rosedale Country Club on February 6th this year located in Rosedale, Mississippi. Love the old school album cover!

 

She's Been Good was the solid advance single for the album released in mid-2014, which is currently on ours as well as many other charts. The fluid live instrumentation with active horns well complements while not overpowering Jr's amazing voice, which has been described as a cross between David Ruffin and Luther Ingram. The majority of the tunes on Tru Blu are slow to mid-tempo jams, with strong cuts such as Something New, Please, Just Relax and My Queen. The pulsating Dance is an upbeat track that will get folks on the floor. My prediction for his next hit from the release would be the mellow Seeing Another Man, which also has a remix version. Very well put together first effort for this rising young star!

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Big Cynthia Walker was one of what I would call the first of the 'new' divas to come on board as a female soloist in Southern Soul. This occurred sometime in the  mid-'90's, in the approximate time frame as a group of ladies that I would also classify as 'new' at that time - Pat Brown, Toni Green, Vickie Baker, Sheba Potts-Wright, the late great Jackie Neal and Stephanie McDee. The daughter of Motown legend the late Junior Walker, she was born in Houston, Texas and began singing in local clubs as a teenager. She later was the opening act for such Soul headliners as Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Denise LaSalle, Betty Wright and Peggy Scott-Adams, just to name a few.  Cynthia also worked the Gospel circuit for a time as well as signing and traveling with the Avanti label in the late ‘90’s before hitting it big in Southern Soul. Her first CD that got folks to stand up and take notice was Ain’t Nothing Like a Big Woman on Mel Waiters’ Brittney label in 2002. As well as the title track, others that received considerable play include Freaky With You and one of my personal favorities, Sorry Don’t Pay the Rent. Significant hits that followed over the next several years:  Baby I'm The Real Thing, You Didn't Take My Man (You Took My Problem), Can't Miss What You Can't Measure, I Didn't Lie I Just Didn't Tell It All, If You Want To Get It, Eating Ain't Cheating,   Don't Rock The Boat and Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home.  Now many years and some solid hit albums later, Big Cynthia’s success is still strong!

 

Cynthia's latest effort, Return Of The Female Mack (you go girl!), just hit the streets in mid-March. I'm Here For You Baby was an advance track that it already killing it here on the Corner's Top 45 chart. It falls right in line with the dramatic lyrics that has become Big Cynthia's trademark. I'm lovin' the raw earthy vocals on I Got A Good Man and You Worried About The Wrong Thang. A family linage comes forward on the remix of Shotgun (shoot him 'fore he runs now!).Classic Cynthia is also here with a reprisal of She Working That Nookie Thang. The dance floor will smoke on Step With You and turn out with Swingin' Down At The Juke Joint.  The album closes with the inquisitive Do You Want to Have Fun With A Big Girl? Cynthia don't hold nothing back - she brings that big woman sound over funky basslines and the rhythmic pulsating beat of the tunes. A good mix of smoke and fire on the release, it is great to see Big Cynthia continue to be one of the female forces in the world of Southern Soul!

 

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Wendell B., Tucka, Ghetto Cowboy,  TK Soul, Ricky White, Jaye Hammer,  Black Zack, J Wonn, Pokey and there may be some I have not mentioned. These male artists immediately come to mind as being the latest 'young gun' list in Southern Soul. My question is: Did they aspire to be in the genre or is that just the way it played out? Probably a good dose of both would be my assumption.  As we have said here before, the hip/hop infused stylings of several years prior by Bigg Robb certainly helped pave the way for several of the current crop to establish a place in Southern Soul.

 

A former Gospel group drummer from Texarkana, Texas, Avail Hollywood is also a prominent member of this group of young guns. In fact, he broke on the Southern Soul scene in late 2009 with his The Young Gunn Of Southern Soul album. Avail Hollywood's style is to get to the heart of the matter, coming hard bringin' grown folkz music with swag!  With Avail's second release, the 2011 Drinking Again, his impact really began to be felt in the industry. The title track, One Man's Trash and Domestic Love all made one or more radio and/or club DJ charts. 2012's Country Road album sustained continued success for Avail - Club In Da Woods as well as the the title track were big hits. Last year's Rehab album continued his string of hit tunes with Fatal Attraction, Creole Shuffle, Kiss My Southern Soul and Rehab Ain't Working.  Writing all of his own material, Avail has also gained quite a reputation as a producer, working on Ecko Records mainstay Donnie Ray albums I'll Be Good To You and It's BYOB (the credits list Christopher Estell, which is Avail's birth name).

 

Avail's latest, Wasted Confessions, was preceded by the single release of Wasted,  the story of a hard working man finding out that his lady is stepping out, his need to drink heavily (build courage up?) then confront her. But, is it the complete tale?  What unfolds in the album is a series of interwoven testimonials. The cut What Is Wasted? is a singular monologue snipet of how to shore up with alcohol that is under two minutes long. Ditto for the explanation of his amorous encounters in Avail Hollywood Confession followed up with Avail Hollywood Confession Pt. 2.  He backs that up even further with Final Confession - whew wee!! Left Cheek Right Cheek is an upbeat booty shaker and @ Tha Sugga Hole jumps off as a solid dance track - a future charter here at the Corner!! I'd Be A Damn Fool is the final Avail substantiation that puts a wrap on what will be another successful album for Hollywood with swagga!!  This multi-talented young artist continues to convince me that he is seriously here to stay in the ever revolving and evolving world of Southern Soul!

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Stephanie McDee is another of those lady vocalists that I spoke of earlier as

being 'new' in Southern Soul approximately twenty  plus years ago. The Louisiana based artist released a couple of albums in the genre in the early 2000's, resulting in a monster hit called Pony Slide. Other singles at that time garnering industry attention include the zydeco infused Call The Police, the rollickin' and ribald Monkey Talk and the 'tell him like it is' Caught Up! Stephanie later took a break from the Soul music scene for a few years, spending some of that time in the Gospel arena, releasing a religous album entitled No Compromise in 2008. Stephanie returned to secular music in a large way in 2012, dropping  Return Of The Southern Soul Queen, and  Stephanie McDee Greatest Hits, both containing seventeen tracks. Big hitmaker singles included Lion Of Judah, Hideaway Motel and When I Step In the Club.

 

Stephanie's latest, Taking Care Of Business, was preceded by two single tracks, It's A Party At The Trail Ride and Annie Mae's Cafe, both that made the charts and have received considerable airplay. Her delivery has not changed over the years even though she has been in and out of the genre - Stephanie brings that rich brassy bluesy voice to the table when she records and/or performs, with a Gulf Coast grown folks raw Soul sound to it.  It stands out on the album title track (already getting some air time)  as well as Nothing Like A House Party,  You Make Me Cry and Southern Soul Party, one of which is likely to be the next McDee charter here at the Corner. We Make The Struggle Look Good (plus the remix) and Running In And Out (Of My Life) are slow grind ballads about the drama and hard times of dealing with relationships.  It is great to see Stephanie McGee back and firmly entrenched as one of the true divas of Southern Soul!

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Another new artist on the Southern Soul scene is Big Poppa G, originally from Chicago but now residing in Memphis. Our first notice of this dynamic Soul singer was when he showed up in a duet (Be There) with the late Floyd Taylor on Ecko's Blues Mix 15 compilation. The mid-tempo smoothie song

is also featured on Big Poppa's recent inaugural album release, I Believe.

Pyramid City Records out of Cordova, TN is the label of record however, it appears that Ecko Records is handling some of the distribution. I have listened to all nine tracks on the album and must say - impressive! The title track immediately catches my attention as a tune that could be a Southern Soul charter. The lyrics are old school mixed well with a modern rhythm track. Lovin' You is a smokin' slow jam that reminds me of Teddy P. in the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes days. Call My Name is a catchy word play on....you guessed it, Big Poppa G!  If I Didn't Have You has what I would call a creepin' intro leading into a tune with tracking that is somewhat reminiscent of the late Lou Pride's 2005 hit single Midnight Call.  Tell Him How You Like It is an eeriely similiar groove of that sound as well. The silky vocals on Gotta Make You Mine sound a lot like a Charlie Wilson tune, it is that good. Ain't No Secret closes it out with a testament to faith in the man above.  A 'ride around after dark' CD on the car player album, pleasant listening throughout, a good start for Big Poppa G! 

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                                                     Percy Sledge    1941 - 2015

 

We lost another legendary artist in Soul music history with the April 14th passing of Percy Sledge. Although his biggest hit single, When A Man Loves A Woman in 1966, came very early in his career, he went on to have fifteen singles and seven albums hit the Billboard charts up through the mid-'70's.

 

Percy was extremely popular on the live concert tours both in the U.S. and abroad, which he did for almost fifty years. He won the initial Rhythm and Blues Foundation Career Achievement Award in 1989 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Percy's music continually sparked new interest, such as his 1994 Grammy nominated Blue Night album, containing the hit Love Comes Knockin' and his 2004 Shining Through The Rain release, with awesome tracks such as Big Blue Diamonds and 24-7-365. He will certainly be missed as one of the great Soul crooners of all time.

 

 

 

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