Southern Soul RNB.com - Daddy B. NiceJune 27, 2009
SWEET ANGEL: Bold Bitch (Ecko) Four Stars **** Distinguished effort. Should please old fans and gain new.Sweet Angel's newest effort, Bold Bitch, her third, is a gem of a CD. Bereft of an obvious hit single, it's nevertheless much more than the sum of its parts. The Ecko Records studio sound--John Ward on the rhythm track sequencing and refreshing real-guitar licks, Morris Williams on the background vocals, and the addition of real-horn fills, including sax on one or two noteworthy numbers--is as saucy and insoucient as it's been in ages.
Everyone sounds like they're having a really good time, and Sweet Angel's vocals provide a center of gravity that never wavers, even when she "spreads her wings," as she does on the redolent slow blues, "Let Me Be Your Angel."
This is music that doesn't plow new frontiers. The songs rework tried and true formulas in almost all cases, and yet the execution is so flawless you have to sit back and shake your head in wonder that you're listening to, for instance, the most basic chord progression in all of music in "Blow That Thang Sweet Angel" and nevertheless enjoying the heck out of it.
"Butt Up," the opening track, a competent little rocker, serves notice that the Ecko house band is in tight form. It also conjures up the memory of past Ecko tunes (Quinn Golden?, Chuck Roberson?) that seem to be on the tip of the tongue but never quite reveal themselves.
Speaking of tongues, "The Tongue Don't Need No Viagra" is in the "Yo Dog Is Killing My Cat" mode, a slow ballad with risque lyrics powered by a Sweet Angel vocal that oozes strength and composure. "Good Love" owns a pretty little hook that ushers in the tender side of the singer.
But more than any other cut on the album, "Don't Let The Clean Up Woman Pick Up Your Man" signals Sweet Angel's determination to push the envelope. The song, of course, is a take-off on Betty Wright's "Clean Up Woman," but the verses are just unique enough to revitalize the song, and Sweet Angel's delivery surpasses any mere cover of the song that this writer has heard in recent years.
"I'm Moving Up" carries the highly-entertaining vibe forward. It has a lovely melody, and Sweet Angel slams it out of the park.
But the insinuating synth hook that snakes its way through the next track, "Good Girls Do Bad Things," marks the high point of the album. Sweet Angel rides the music like a veteran. Her trademark enunciation has never been as razor-sharp, her phrasing never more inspired. Vick Allen is currently getting a lot of air play for his "preacher" song, and Lenny Williams got a lot of attention with his "preacher" song a year ago, but when Sweet Angel sings:
"I was raised in the church.
My daddy was a deacon. . .
One day at Sunday school,
This young man made a pass. . .
Good girls do bad things. . .
I know it for myself.
That's how I got my man."
I get an immediacy and authenticity--perhaps because it's the female perspective--that trumps either of the more well-known, male-gender songs cited.
"Outside Tail" and "Bold Bitch" close out the album as effortlessly as a car salesman selling a pink Cadillac to Elvis up the street on Elvis Presley Boulevard. "Bold Bitch" is a reworking of Muddy Water's "I'm A Man."
Don't be deterred (or on the other hand, unduly turned on) by the provocative song titles. The lyrics are mild and won't be denied air play or consigned to the underground ala Clarence Carter's "Strokin'" or Marvin Sease's "Candy Licker." What the titles do establish is Sweet Angel's determination to carve out a space for herself in the crowded derby of Southern Soul female vocalists.
Ironically, Memphis, which in the sixties and seventies was the gritty R&B underbelly to Motown and Philly soul, has evolved into the "urban" sound of today's Southern Soul, the northernmost point, as it were, of the greater Delta region. Female singers from Memphis like Toni Green and Sweet Angel lack the gunny-sack roughness of the rural divas from Deep South like Ms. Jody and Karen Wolfe and are therefore always a little more suspect as true Southern Soul stars.
With her outstanding vocal clarity and precision, Sweet Angel sounds very "urban" for Southern Soul, even on this CD. In that respect Sweet Angel remains outside what most hardcore fans think of as mainstream Southern Soul. She is really more of a jazz singer, an (urban-sounding) blues singer, or what in New York night life is called a cabaret singer.
And yet, Bold Bitch is far too good to dismiss, and not that far, when you think of it, from the fingernail-tingling, fine-glass precision of Shirley Brown. It's Southern Soul--a little more urban, yes--but Southern Soul of the highest order. And Bold Bitch just begs you to keep playing it again and again.
--Daddy B. Nice