Karen Wolfe (21st Century)
Daddy B. Nice's #25 ranked Southern Soul Artist
Karen Wolfe (21st Century)
Composed by Omar Cunningham
May 16, 2019:
See new letter regarding Karen Wolfe originally posted in Daddy B. Nice's Mailbag. Scroll down this page to "Tidbits #7".
February 1, 2019: Originally posted on Daddy B. Nice's Best Of 2018 page.
January 26, 2019:
Daddy B. Nice Announces THE WINNERS of the 2018 (12th Annual) SOUTHERN SOUL MUSIC AWARDS.
Best Female VocalistNominees:
"Sleeping With The Enemy"----Toia Jones
"I'm Gonna Wait"----Beatrice
"Big Sexy"----Anissa Hampton
"Show Pony"----Annie Washington
"Southern Soul Bounce"----Ms. Jody
"That Good Good"----Sweet Angel (w/ Mattie)
"That Bitch Ain't Me"----Karen Wolfe
"Drank Of My Love"----Crystal Thomas
"Down Low Brother"----Val McKnight
"Mr. Right"----Mz. Juicy
"Why You Gotta Act Like That?"----Mz. Connie
Best Female Vocalist: "That Bitch Ain't Me" by Karen WolfeListen to Karen Wolfe singing "That Bitch Ain't Me" on YouTube.
December 15, 2018:
Originally posted on Daddy B. Nice's Corner: News & Notes
November 10, 2018:
News & Notes: November’s SinglesThere were interesting trends and footnotes to the new music coming across the southern soul desk this last month, none more dramatic than that involving Karen Wolfe, who had just finished a gig with J-Wonn and L.J. Echols at Sam's Town Live in Las Vegas. First, Karen delivered a new song, What You Gone Do, which I passed on--musically, a little bland. But Karen also sent a "final mix" of "That Chick Ain't Me," with the comment, "Here's what they're playing on me right now." This drove me back to my first comments on the song, when it charted here in February.
…4. "That Chick Ain't Me"-----Karen Wolfe
She held off sending me this one. Karen must have known your Daddy B. Nice would cry out in pain. There are two songs too sacred to f--- with: Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" and Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind." You see, when you allow yourself to be seduced by a classic hook in a new song, you're giving up your allegiance to the classic (or at least a piece of it), in this case "I'd Rather Go Blind". Do you agree, millennials?...Well, maybe not, they say. And even I admit I love this remake, with a great guitar instrumental, a great background chorus--the only question then being, "Will I still be seduced by this song in a month or will I hate it?" So I packed a month's worth of listenings into a couple of days and the verdict is...I love it.
Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "That Chick Ain't Me" on YouTube.
For the record, Calvin Richardson was the one who f----d with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" in his song "Falling Out". I've never been able to quite forgive him.
On the other hand, all thoughts of "I'd Rather Go Blind" are long forgotten, the hook from "That Chick" having thoroughly appropriated it. And let's not forget that the Love Doctor's "Slow Roll It," the song that jump-started contemporary southern soul, written by some guy named Charles Jones, stole the hook from The Staple Singers' "Do It Again". Here's my final take on Karen Wolfe's "That Chick Ain't Me," eight months after it first charted. (Taken from DBN's Top 10 Singles, November 2018.)
10. "That Bitch Ain't Me"-----Karen Wolfe
Even more so than when it charted here as "That Chick Ain't Me" in February (scroll down this page), I think this is an important song. Maybe it can't be marketed or broadcast as such, but the vernacular "bitch" is more real, accurate and relevant, and therefore even more powerful. The inflection in Karen's voice as she sings the last three words in "You made your bed/Now LIE IN IT"...You'll never hear stuff like that outside of southern soul, folks.
Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "That Bitch Ain't Me" on YouTube.
Note: Karen Wolfe also appears on Daddy B. Nice's original Top 100 Southern Soul Artists (90's-00's). The "21st Century" after Karen Wolfe's name in the headline is to distinguish her artist-guide entries on this page from her artist-guide page on Daddy B. Nice's original chart.
To automatically link to Karen Wolfe's charted radio singles, awards, CD's and many other references on the website, go to "Wolfe, Karen" in Daddy B. Nice's Comprehensive Index.
Daddy B. Nice's Original Profile:
October 23, 2012:
Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Man Enough" on YouTube.
Like so much else in life, the emergence of Karen Wolfe was a precarious event, blessed by good fortune and coincidence. Her career might never have happened had she not married Denise LaSalle's brother-in-law, Gary Wolfe. Denise recognized Karen's talent (Karen had sung in a defunct gospel group called Soul Unlimited for a decade) and hired her as a back-up singer. Denise also encouraged Karen to strike out on her own.
Karen's debut CD, First Time Out, appeared in 2006 under the tutorship of Bill Coday and his wife Anna, who became Wolfe's manager. The album emerged just about the time a whole slew of potential Southern Soul divas--Ms. Jody, Nellie "Tiger" Travis, Miz B., Renea Mitchell and Tazz Calhoun among others--were making bigger splashes.
No one song on First Time Out came close to matching the appeal of Travis' "If I Back It Up" or Miz B.'s "My Name Is $$$$'s" or Mitchell's "Seventeen Days Of Loving" or Tazz's "Stroke It Easy" or Ms. Jody's "I Never Take A Day Off."
By contrast, Karen's songs--most notably about sloppy, careless, clothes-tossing, nose-picking husbands as described in "Unloveable Habits," "Grown Ass Man" and "Back Door Love Affair"--sounded competent at best.
Karen had a unique, anti-slick, unschooled-sounding style that was still liable to be confused with amateurism. In short, the odds were against this unique but somewhat bashful and slow-starting new vocalist catching on.
Then, in the fall of 2008, Karen Wolfe dropped the bomb. I can still remember getting the copy of the promotional single for "Man Enough" in the mail. I slapped it into the CD player and almost fell out of my chair. All it took was one listen. I made it the number-one "breaking" Southern Soul single for that month, October, 2008. By year's end, the song had won the Daddy B. Nice Southern Soul Music Award for Best Mid-Tempo Southern Soul Song of 2008.
"Man Enough" has gone on to become a fixture of Southern Soul deejays' playlists--
Listen to Karen Wolfe singing "Man Enough" on YouTube.
--comparing favorably, for example, with Syleena Johnson's (the daughter of bluesman Syl) one and only Southern Soul hit, "Guess What"--written, by the way, by R. Kelly.
Musically, technically speaking, the background leaves something to be desired, especially the lackluster rhythm section.
But lyrically, Karen Wolfe's "Man Enouigh" is even better than Kelly's "Guess What." Omar Cunningham, a strong candidate for Southern Soul songwriter of the year, wrote "Man Enough" and sings along on the rousing and irresistable chorus, lending the song even more of a congregational hue.
"You must have woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. . . "
--the song begins, and the lyrics--for those who have never heard the song--are so razor-sharp you find yourself, as a fan, relishing the few lapses and tics in the composition, such as the very next line:
"Because you've been talking to me in any kind of way."
All of a sudden my eggs aren't scrambled right. . . "
Followed by a classic summation of the song to come--
"And everything I say starts a fight."
So begins a veritable pile-of-gold of real-life and Southern-Soul-certified imagery, anchored by the trusty, ultimately triumphant, gospel-and-country-drenched chorus:
"If you're man enough to leave,
I'm woman enough to let you go."
(To learn more about Karen Wolfe's "Man Enough" and the songs from the album from which it came, read Daddy B. Nice's 2009 CD Review of Karen Wolfe's A WOMAN NEEDS A STRONG MAN by scrolling down this page to Tidbits #2.)
In a five-star (highest ranking) 2009 review of Karen Wolfe's A Woman Needs A Strong Man CD, your Daddy B. Nice wrote:
"I doubt that even Ms. Wolfe and Ms. Coday realize how special and possibly never-to-be-duplicated this particular set of songs, sung at this particular time by this particular singer, is."
Karen Wolfe's first follow-up single after the A Woman Needs A Strong Man CD was a premeditated attempt to craft another woman's anthem on the order of "Man Enough." Karen went back to Omar Cunningham, the composer of "Man Enough," and she poured her heart and soul into creating another classic.
When I first heard the song, I was disappointed. Here is my original write-up from Daddy B. Nice's "Breaking" Southern Soul Singles: September 2010:
7. "Stuttering"----------------Karen Wolfe
Karen Wolfe gained a lot of fans over the last couple of years with her "Man Enough," and her next new music was bound to be highly significant and anticipated.
"Stuttering" is dense and it's slow, not as simple and accessible as "Man Enough," and Karen's vocal struggles at times, as if she weren't singing in her best key. You really have to like Karen Wolfe to stick with it, but if you do stick with it, the song has its rewards, especially for true-blue fans, of which Karen has many.
To make an analogy with the Love Doctor, if "Man Enough" was Karen Wolfe's "Slow Roll It," then "Stuttering" is her "Lies."
My reaction to the song was based almost exclusively on its musical components (as per usual). I suspect Wolfe's belief in and hopes for the song were based on the theme, the message and the specific lyrics, which were indeed anthemic and heart-felt.
Karen and I had had some minimal communication by this time. She had thanked me for the critical exposure I had given "Man Enough." But she was almost surely disappointed when I told her I couldn't get behind "Stuttering" with the same enthusiasm, noting that the single was recorded at an exceedingly slow tempo (perhaps too slow) and in a key that made it difficult for Karen to project with the vocal force of "Man Enough."
The upshot was that Karen never sent me the follow-up single to "Stuttering"--"You Ain't No Player"--when it was released in 2011, nor did she send me her new (third) CD, just out this year (2012): Telling It Like It Is (Coday Records).
This roller-coaster kind of relationship between an artist and a writer/critic is more the norm than the exception--and wouldn't bear any special mention--except that in re-evaluating Karen Wolfe's songs anew for this Artist Guide's Recommended Singles (right-hand column, this page), your Daddy B. Nice had to choose once again just where in the Karen Wolfe catalog "Stuttering" belonged.
My first impulse was to rank "It Ain't That Kind Of Party" as Karen Wolfe's second-best song. I've long considered this song a musical gem, reminiscent of Nellie "Tiger" Travis's best work with songwriter Floyd Hamberlin, Jr.
"It Ain't That Kind Of Party" is about a woman refusing to date a guy who likes to party with more than one. I've touted this song not only to the website audience but practically begged both Karen and her manager/producer, Anna Coday, to promote it as a top-notch single.
"You know what it's about," Ms. Cody once told your Daddy B. Nice, as if a mere man might have missed its message of rampant and delusional male polygamy. Once again, the lyrics are one thing, the musical structure is another, and while the music deserves high marks (in my opinion), it's the message that relegates it to a lower status in the eyes of the Wolfe camp.
The result is that the arrangement suffers from being a little too bare and Karen's vocal leaves the impression of being peremptory--as if she recorded it on the first or second take. Both technical issues stem, I believe, from Karen's lack of belief and emotional investment in the song.
It may even be that "You Ain't No Player" from Wolfe's new CD, TELLING IT LIKE IT IS, is the Wolfe/Coday camp's retelling of the same general male delusions. However, musically, "You Ain't No Player" doesn't have a chorus with the spectacular possibilities of "It Ain't That Kind Of Party."
In re-playing "Stuttering" two years after its release, however, I've been surprised by how well the song holds up. The guitar riffs still sound sparkling, and Karen's vocal seems even deeper and more emotionally serious than it did when the record first appeared.
With all its faults, "Stuttering" is still an impressive piece of work. Karen pours some of the finest vocal work of her career into the song. It deserves to be on the masthead (as the "B-Side") with "Man Enough" because it reveals so much of what makes Karen Wolfe great: namely, her one-of-a-kind, quintessentially southern-soul singing style.
It's not an exaggeration to say that Karen Wolfe has forged a vocal style unlike anyone else in the genre--crude, heartfelt, country-down-to-its very-pores.
"Man Enough?" . . .
Well, what I think about "Man Enough" can best be described by the fact that, relatively "green" as the song is in the contemporary Southern Soul canon, "Man Enough's" the song your Daddy B. Nice picks to play for strangers who want to know what Southern Soul "is."
--Daddy B. Nice
About Karen Wolfe (21st Century)
Karen Wolfe was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas August 14, 1959. She sang with her sister in an all-girl gospel group named Soul Unlimited for a decade. She recorded her first album, Stop By Here, with a gospel quartet called The Harmonettes.
Song's Transcendent Moment
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