Daddy B. Nice's #139 ranked Southern Soul Artist
"All I Want Is You (w/ Big Pokey Bear)"
September 22, 2022:
Crystal Thomas: Now Dig This! (Dialtone) Four Stars **** Distinguished Effort. Should please old fans and gain new.Now Dig This by Crystal Thomas marks a first in my years chronicling southern soul music. Imagine....You go to the post office to check your box and instead of picking up a CD jewel case in a thin vanilla wrapper, you find a post-office key to a much bigger box with a much larger, strange-shaped package. Still puzzled, you take it home, only to discover it's a 33 rpm vinyl record with cover art that looks like the blues records from the 1950's and 1960's. Then comes the big surprise. The recording artist on the cover is a contemporary southern soul star: Crystal Thomas!
As luck would have it, I had bought a used, multi-component, stereo system with a turntable a few years ago with the intention of listening to all the great albums from my youth packed away in boxes in my closets. "Vinyl's coming back," friends told me. To my chagrin, I soon discovered that the landmark vinyl albums I thought I possessed were lost, given away to friends or simply abandoned in various moves around the country and globe. What remained were inferior collections I'd picked up in "Just Arrived" bins of used record stores.
So the turntable was dust-covered (I even had trouble remembering how to unhook the needle), but when I did figure it out, the experience of
watching the needle rise from its base and move to the exact point above the spinning record, stop, and drop down into the vinyl groove was accompanied by pure exhilaration. Then the music started, and Crystal started singing the blues, and it was bliss.
Crystal Thomas is impressive throughout this all-blues set, her gift and technique on lavish display. She doesn't dominate, but stays scripted, self-contained, part of a group effort, and yet my estimation of Crystal Thomas soared. She is an incredible blues singer. And it wasn't lost on me that just after writing a new profile of Nellie "Tiger" Travis (the "top-rated female vocalist in contemporary southern soul") and her two-track career as blues singer and southern soul star, Crystal Thomas should crop up as a potential, dual-career-path, heir apparent.
The excitement and novelty of the album brought a rush of thoughts, among them the divide between blues and southern soul, which has only grown wider since the days of Little Milton and Chick Willis, and the divide between white and black listeners, and between white and black artists, and how in the South it's taken for granted that southern soul is an extension of the blues, but not in the North or in the cities of the South like Austin, Texas, where this album was recorded.
From the "white blues" perspective, blues is all about technique. It's not what's being played; it's how it's being played. Blues or southern soul from the black perspective is about inspiration. It's about the song and the newness of the sound. For traditionalists, aka blues purists, new music is not the point. It's the same old chords from one small phase of the history of the blues played over and over and over again like a religion---a liturgy.
As a former classically-trained bassist, I was awed by the bass performance on "Can't You See What You're Doing To Me?". The bass (Chuck Rainey) is almost the "lead" throughout the song. Think of that live, bass-driven rhythm section behind O.B. Buchana from Ecko Records. You think his career wouldn't sky-rocket with a band such as this? And although I'm not well-versed enough in the traditional blues market to make judgments on the musicians or even the compositions on Now Dig This, I'm not too dumb to realize Lucky Peterson's organ solo on "The Blues Ain't Nothing But Some Pain" is something to die for.
But does this record's appearance mean blues and southern soul really could merge---and from the blues side? The one thing both camps would agree upon is that they are two distinct audiences. Still, Now Dig This shows how the traditional blues guys are watching southern soul out of the corners of their eyes even as they deny its existence.
For example, the liner notes call this Crystal Thomas's debut album. Technically, since its vinyl, that may be true, but it also effectively omits Thomas's two already published southern soul (and very bluesy) albums. But for the blues purist to even acknowledge Thomas's career in southern soul would be to accept the profane, even though the traditional blues they're playing on Now Dig This was considered "profane" when it first came out.
In the South it's different. When black southerners say "blues," they may be talking about blues from the past, but more likely they're talking about southern soul music: something they heard on the radio, something they danced to in the club---somebody like Pokey Bear---all of which they consider today's blues.
Twenty-five to fifty years from now, "traditional-blues" guys like those behind this NOW DIG THIS! will be riffing on Sir Charles Jones and Pokey Bear the way these musicians are riffing on Janis Joplin's "One Good Man," Albert King's "Can't You See What You're Doing To Me" and Ashford and Simpson's "Let's Go Get Stoned," and they will be doing it with the same reverence and love.
But make no mistake. There is more "blues" and "getting-stoned-ness" in a spoonful of Daddy B. Nice's #1 "Breaking" southern soul single for March 2021---hiphoppers Joe Nice's and Sean Dolby's cover of Lynn White's "Take Your Time,"-- than in Crystal and her illustrious backing band's "Let's Go Get Stoned," simply because the latter is so unconsciously and damnably respectful---or maybe "respectable".
On the other hand, if this is the "Living Blues" purists saying, "This is what southern soul---and one of southern soul's finest singers---sounds like with a "money" band backing her, I say, "Bring it on." I say to both sides---"Let's merge, let's unite, let's collaborate." Who can forget what Tre' Williams accomplished backed by The Revelations on "I Don't Want To Know"?
Which brings up another interesting question. Are southern soul artists and fans even interested in the blues anymore? We've come a long way from Little Milton. You don't hear as much blues along with the southern soul anymore. And southern soul's drift towards hiphop and de-emphasis of gospel and blues is a disconcerting trend.
Which brings us to the final irony regarding this album extolling Crystal Thomas blues expertise. Marketing. Even with all the expensive talent and exquisite packaging behind NOW DIG THIS, the "real world" marketing that southern soul artists utilize daily is evidently unknown or unnecessary in the more "collegiate world" of traditional blues, meaning no YouTube. No reaching out to the audience. Too crass? It speaks to the gulf that still and maybe forever divides traditional blues as celebrated by Caucasions and the blues and southern soul as celebrated by African-Americans.
On a side note, this album was also released in a digital version on the P-Vine label in 2019 under the title It's The Blues Funk!, a fact I only discovered by searching without any success for YouTube videos of the album's songs for my reader's edification. Here's the only one I could find:
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "The Blues Ain't Nothing But Some Pain" on YouTube.
---Daddy B. Nice
Buy Crystal Thomas' new NOW DIG THIS vinyl album at Antone's Record Shop.
Buy Crystal Thomas' new NOW DIG THIS! vinyl album at Discogs.
December 1, 2018:
CRYSTAL THOMAS: Drank Of My Love (Crystal Thomas) Three Stars *** Solid. The Artist's Fans Will Enjoy.Drank Of My Love, the second collection from Crystal Thomas, the uber-talented singer out of Shreveport, Louisiana, is disarmingly soft-focused and laid-back. It also suffers from the same malady that marred Ms. Thomas' debut album: a lack of significant new material. Ms. Thomas stubbornly insists on doing all her own composing and the bulk of her producing, revealing once again a wide discrepancy between her writing/producing skills and her breathtaking vocal expertise.
So just as her debut, Lyrical Gumbo: The Essence of Blues, had little to recommend it beyond the song "Country Girl," the new album has no obvious, radio-worthy singles beyond the title track, "Drank Of My Love". And even "Drank Of My Love," a simple blues phrase culminating in a minor-key-sounding note and repeated over and over, is more dispiriting than "bluesy," salvaged primarily by the marvelous background chorus (again Thomas).
The opening track and an already-released single, "Party" is no doubt meant to furnish an upbeat contrast to the taciturn "Drank Of My Love," but there's not a fresh note in the song-- one of those "in-one-ear, out-the-other" party songs. "Mr. Do Right" is a shameless recycling of Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness"--why not just cover the original?-- and "Hey Baby" is a blues that has been done maybe fifty-thousand times. You have to be a blues fanatic to appreciate these brazenly generic exercises. And "Show Me How To Zydeco" fails to capture any of the fizz that cajun music usually gives a southern soul album. Once again the onus is on the songwriting: melodically and lyrically, Ms. Thomas' compositions fall short--that is, they fail to stand out, they have no novelty.
"I'll Be Right Here" is the closest Ms. Thomas comes to succeeding at putting it all--writing, singing, producing--into a vehicle with bonafide charisma. The relaxed, mid-tempo melody brings out the best in Thomas, and her vocal is a marvel. Similarly, the gospel of "Every Hour"--and the energy it infuses--provides an uplifting and refreshing contrast to the languor of the rest of the set. The remake of "Country Girl" in a re-booted tempo is also a pleasure.
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "Country Girl (2018 Remix)" on YouTube.
Crystal's vocals deliver throughout, through good and bad, thick and thin. However, the fact that the new album doesn't include Crystal's 2018 single, "I Got That Good Stuff," is inexplicable. "Good Stuff" is better than "Drank Of My Love" or anything else on the set, and would have instantly raised the album's profile.
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "I Got That Good Stuff" on YouTube.
Nor does this album include the song that garnered Crystal BEST FEMALE VOCALIST of 2018 honors: "All I Need Is You," the duet with Big Pokey Bear from his 2017 chart-topping album, BEAR SEASON.
A quick aside on "All I Need Is You." It came out in December a year ago. Dominating throughout was Beat Flippa's keyboard/organ in vibrato mode. Pokey Bear wailed a little on the intro, but Crystal took the first verse. I was so blown away by the sound she achieved with her vocal--and so blown away each time the intermittently-absent bass re-entered the rhythm track--so blown away by both the music and Crystal's vocal, in other words--that I never listened to the words, and never realized that she and Pokey were talking about getting each other Christmas presents--that, in short, it was a Christmas song. So a belated merry Christmas to all!
Listen to Big Pokey Bear and Crystal Thomas singing "All I Need Is You (For Christmas)" on YouTube.
Crystal Thomas' claim to fame remains the work she's done with Jeter Jones: "Something Something,". "Looking For Lovin'," "Them Country Girls," and "Trailride Certified". And with Pokey Bear: "All I Want Is You," "Zydeco, Blues & Trail Ride (ZBT Anthem)" (also with Jeter Jones). And, of course, with Baton Rouge producer Beat Flippa (Ross Music Group).
When she sings with these artists, Crystal rocks and rolls and swings on a level she has yet to achieve in her solo career. Released from the responsibility of writing and producing, she lets her vocals soar in a way her own material has yet to allow: raw and naked sensuality personified. It's hard to believe Beat Flippa, Jeter Jones and Pokey Bear wouldn't have given permission to Crystal to publish these songs. The money, after all, is in the songwriting, and the more the song is published, the more the royalties accrue. Which is to say... At this point in time, Crystal Thomas is less a legitimate solo recording artist than she is a distinguished and eminently-gifted background singer and collaborator: a present-day Queen Ann Hines, a contemporary Thomisene Anderson.
--Daddy B. Nice
Buy Crystal Thomas' new DRANK OF MY LOVE album at CD Baby.
Buy Crystal Thomas' new DRANK OF MY LOVE CD at iTunes.
See Daddy B. Nice's Artist Guide to Crystal Thomas.
September 1, 2018:
New Album Alert!
Buy Crystal Thomas's new DRANK OF MY LOVE album at CD Baby.
DRANK OF MY LOVE TRACK LIST:
2. Show Me How to Zydeco
3. I'll Be Right Here
4. Hey Baby
5. Drank of My Love
6. Let Him Go
7. Mr. Do Right
8. It's Too Late
9. Every Hour
10. Country Girl
Daddy B. Nice notes:Crystal Thomas's new album doesn't include her 2018 singles, "I Got That Good Stuff" and "Party"--strange omissions. Nor does it include the song that garnered her BEST FEMALE VOCALIST of 2018 honors: "All I Need Is You," the duet with Big Pokey Bear from his 2017 chart-topping album, BEAR SEASON. (Scroll down this page for more on "All I Need Is You".)
On the other hand, the new album contains two stand-outs from Crystal's debut album, LYRICAL GUMBO: THE ESSENCE OF BLUES: "Country Girl" and "Somebody Else's Man"
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "Country Girl" on YouTube.
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "Somebody Else's Man" on YouTube. (Not to be confused with Jocelyn Brown's "Somebody Else's Guy".)
Listen to Crystal Thomas singing "Mr. Do Right"--from the new album--on YouTube.
Buy Crystal Thomas's new DRANK OF MY LOVE album at Amazon.
January 28, 2018:
Daddy B. Nice Announces THE WINNERS of the 2017 (11th Annual) SOUTHERN SOUL MUSIC AWARDS.
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