Blues Critic Awards
2017 READERS POLL (13th annual)
Southern Soul Blues
As voted by Blues Critic readers...
Best Southern Soul/R & B Album
Nellie Tiger Travis "Mr. Sexy Man: The Album"
Ms. Nellie Tiger Travis has been on quite the roll ever since her monster hit "Mr. Sexy Man" broke out several years ago (and it's still hot). Of course there was the very exciting appearance on The Tonight show where she performed "Slap Yo' Weave Off" (from the CD "I'm A Woman") and more gigs than ever before. In 2017 she had another couple songs gunning for the charts ("Fix A Flat" and "Textual Harassment") and folks rewarded the chanteuse with "Best Southern Soul/R&B Album" for "Mr. Sexy Man: The Album". In early voting it seemed like 6 or 7 albums were all tied at the top (runner-up "Soul Certified" by J-Red, "Thunder Under Yonder" by Ms. Jody, "Bear Season" by Pokey Bear, "Lyrical Gumbo: The Essence Of The Blues" by Crystal Thomas, "Trailride Certified" by Jeter Jones, "The Blues In Me" by Stan Butler, "Chocolate Soul" by Tre Williams and "Born 2 Do This" by Bigg Robb). 2017 nominees also featured Ricky White, Sweet Angel, Shay Denise, Mr. Sam, Lacee, Jaye Hammer, O.B. Buchana, Black Diamond, Uvee Hayes, Lomax, Big G, Chairmen Of The Board, Latimore, David Brinston, C-Wright and El' Willie.
Best Soul Blues Album
Willie Clayton "Crossroad Of The Blues"
It was good news for all nominees that Bobby Rush didn't release an album in 2017 since he seems to win every time he does! Nominees this year were "Knock A Hole In It" by Mr. Sipp, "Grown Ass Woman" by Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire, self-titled by Robert Cray & Hi Rhythm, Grammy Award-winner "TajMo" by Taj Mahal & Keb Mo, "See What I Want To See" by Travis Haddix, "Two Cats" by Linsey Alexander, "Blues Been Good To Me" by James Armstrong, "Waiting For The Train" by Johnny Rawls, "Back 2 Blues" by Stevie J. and runner-up "Blues You Can Use" by Gregg A. Smith. It was, however, Willie Clayton's year, his heralded return to the Blues, with the appropriately-titled "Crossroad Of The Blues". Clayton can sing anything but there's just something extra special when the legend goes back to his roots.
Best Southern Soul/R & B Song
"I'm Goin' Down Slow" by Sir Charles Jones & Wendell B.
How can you lose when you combine two of Southern Soul's best singers on a soulful, pleading slow jam like "I'm Goin' Down Slow" (Best Southern Soul/R&B Song)? The answer is you can't. This expertly sung and arranged track stood out in a fabulous year for Southern Soul/R&B songs. Other nominees: "I Need A Drink" (Bigg Robb), runner-up "I Can't Be Faithful" (Pokey & Bishop Bullwinkle), "Kiss It Goodbye (Lomax), "Grown Folks Spot" (Donnie Ray), "Sneaking And Creeping" (Willie Clayton), "Trailride Certified" (Jeter Jones & Crystale), "There's A Right Way To Do Wrong" (O.B. Buchana), "Fix A Flat" (Nellie Tiger Travis), "Country Gurl" (Crystal Thomas), "She Said Oh" (Lenny Williams), "Don't Let The Cleanup Woman" (Lacee), "Living In A Rooming House" (Carl Sims), "Sidepiece Motel" (David Brinston), "3 Rounds" (Tre Williams), "Stilettos And Jeans" (Sharnette Hyter & JJ Callier), "I'll Take Your Word For It" (Vick Allen), "Broke As Hell (Mr. Sam), "Workaholic" (Jeff Floyd), "Don't Do It For The Money" (TJ Hooker Taylor) and "True Love" (Black Diamond)
Best Slow Jam
"I Wonna Hold My Baby" by T.K. Soul
Winner T.K. Soul said "I Wonna Hold My Baby" and the voters liked that. Karen Wolfe claimed "That Chick Ain't Me". Nellie Tiger Travis was "Walkin' In The Rain In Memphis". Legendary Peggy Scott-Adams admitted "I'm In Love By Myself". Shay Denise confessed she's "Addicted". Willie Clayton opined "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right". Donnie Ray told the ladies "I Wanna Be Your Man" ("not a one night stand"). Ricky White warned "Stay Out Of My Business". Stephanie Pickett wanted a "Back Door Lover". Big G spoke about his "Darkest Hour". Sweet Angel instructed us there's "Steps To Love". Pokey and Cupid were "In The Mood". David Brinston hiccupped "I Drinks My Whiskey. Tyree Neal said someone was "Knocking At My Backdoor Ringing My Bell". Pokey and Miss Portia scoffed and declared "It Ain't Gone Work". El' Willie gave compliments that "Nobody" ("can love me like you do"). Mr. Sam realized "She Don't Want Me No More". Sir Charles Jones and Wendell B. complained "I'm Goin' Down Slow" while Stan Butler revealed the "Preacher Was A Homewrecker".
Best Dance Or Funk Song
"Z.B.T. Anthem" by Pokey Bear, Jeter Jones, Crystal Thomas, Miss Portia, Blu 3 Black, Gangsta
Some real club bangers to choose from. Wendell B., known for his luscious baritone that excels on slow jams, released an infectious dance joint that should have become the next "Cupid Shuffle" if you ask me. I don't think it received proper promotion. Nevertheless, "Bobalagaboom" was born and it was funk-kay. Donnie Ray took you to the "Grown Folks Spot". Ms. Jody admitted "I Had To Lie" and introduced her "Power Stroke". Stan Butler regretted "I Took My Grandma To the Club". David Brinston was cheating at the "Sidepiece Motel". Bigg Robb sighed "I Need A Drink". Tre Williams made folks "Put Those Cups Up". Ken Knox of The Chairmen Of The Board let every lady know "I'm Ready, Willing & Able". Rhomey was asked "What's That Dance?". Ghetto Cowboy invited "Let's Party". But one of the most happening trends in the chitlin' circuit was so-called trailride music. There was the winner "Z.B.T. Anthem" by Pokey Bear, Jeter Jones, Crystal Thomas, Miss Portia, Blu 3 Black, Gangsta, "Watch My Boots Pt. 2" by Deacon Dukes, Jeter Jones, Big Lee & Pokey Bear and this year's very narrow runner-up (lost by only 86 votes out of over 10,000 cast) is "Trailride Certified" by Jeter Jones & Crystale. Other jams nominated came from Nelson Curry ("Call Me"), O.B. Buchana ("Swing On Remix") and J-Red The Nephew ("Step Out").
Best Down Home Blues Song
Gregg A. Smith "Don't Cry No More"
As has been the trend there is less "Southern Soul Blues" (aka "Down Home Blues")" music being produced versus "Southern Soul/R&B". Hopefully Blues will make a comeback. That said 2017 was another solid year in this department. Runner-up Willie Clayton, who won "Best Soul Blues Album" already, nearly prevailed in this category with "Sneaking & Creeping". Malaco Records' latest discovery Mr. Sipp scored another hit with "Knock A Hole In It". The always reliable Stevie J. checked in with "Good Good". Other nominees included: "Hold Back That Booga Bear" by Sweet Angel,"Let Me Disappoint You" by Travis Haddix, "California Shake" by Johnny Rawls, "Full Figured Woman" by Joe Blues Butler, "Where I Come From" by Ms. Jody, "Mississippi Style" by Jaye Hammer, "Bear Meat" by Bigg Robb and "Right Man Wrong Doctor" by Jim Bennett. In the end it was radio personality and veteran singer Gregg A. Smith who wins "Best Down Home Blues Song" with his remake of Bobby Blue Bland's "Don't Cry No More". Smith also won this category in 2010 with "Forever Young".
Best Vocal Performance FEMALE
Sharnette Hyter "Stilettos And Jeans"
Let me start off by saying this was the closest race of all polls. The top five vote earners (Lacee, Karen Wolfe, Crystal Thomas, Ms. Jody and Nellie Tiger Travis) were all within 50 votes of one another (out of over 10,000 cast!!) Newcomer Crystal Thomas did exceptionally well (in each category she was nominated in). She didn't win but she was first runner-up for "Country Gurl". Not far behind her was Nellie Tiger Travis for "Walkin' In The Rain In Memphis". Karen Wolfe re-entered the game with the sassy "That Chick Ain't Me". Lacee' did the math on "Three-Way Love Affair" and Ms. Jody delivered truth with "I Had To Lie". In the end it was Sharnette Hyter that prevailed with the sexy "Stiletto And Jeans". Other nominees: Peggy Scott-Adams for "In Love By Myself", Stephanie Pickett for "Back Door Lover", Miss Portia for "It Gon' Cost You", Katrenia Jefferson for "He's Got That Body", Uvee Hayes for "Mr. Fix-It-Upper", Shay Denise for "Addicted", Sweet Angel for "Steps To Love" and the late Big Cynthia for "Swing Out".
Best Vocal Performance MALE
Lenny Williams "She Said Oh"
Runner-Up J Wonn & Tucka ("Pretty Girl") wasn't too far behind the legend Lenny Williams ("She Said Oh"). It was a matter of 142 votes out of 10.000+. Other contenders were Willie Clayton ("Sneaking & Creeping"), Donnie Ray ("Grown Folks Spot"), Wendell B. ("Sunshine"), Avail Hollywood ("I Could Use A Drink"), Sir Charles Jones ("I'm Goin' Down Slow"), Pokey Bear ("I Can't Be Faithful"), Vick Allen ("I'll Take Your Word For It"), Carl Sims ("Living In A Rooming House"), Gregg A. Smith ("Don't Cry No More"), Jim Bennett ("Right Man, Wrong Doctor"), Nelson Curry ("Call Me"), Simone De ("Something To Talk About"), Tyree Neal ("Knocking At My Door, Ringing My Bell").
Best Performance By A Duo Or Group
"I Can't Be Faithful" by Pokey Bear & Bishop Bullwinkle
2017 was definitely the year of the collaborations. It was a chore to list as many as we could. Just like we wrote last year "Southern Soul collaborations have become the thing as of late. It seems the number of performances grows exponentially". This working together spirit is very encouraging. It often produced spectacular results. This year the top vote earner was Pokey Bear & Bishop Bullwinkle for "I Can't Be Faithful". Runner-Up is J. Red-The Nephew with Columbus Toy & Miss Lady Blues. Other nominees were: Chairmen Of The Board featuring Ken Knox for "I'm Ready, Willing & Able", Sharnette Hyter & Big Cynthia for "I Need A Do Right Man", Sharnette Hyter again with JJ Callier for "Stilettos And Jeans". Sir Charles Jones & Wendell B. for "I'm Goin' Down Slow", Black Diamond for "True Love", J. Red & Sir Charles Jones for "Turn It Out", J Wonn & Tucka for "Pretty Girl", Pokey, Crystal Thomas, Jeter Jones, Miss Portia & others for "ZBT Anthem", Big Yayo & Omar Cunnigham for "Boots On Song", Big Yayo, Gentry-Jones & Omar Cunningham for "Bedroom Rodeo", Alonzo Reid & La"Keisha for "Do What You Want", Pokey & Miss Portia for "It Ain't Gon' Work", Jeter Jones & Crystale for "Trailride Certified".
Best New Artist
"Best New Artist" is always the most hotly-contested race annually with fans of each artist voting incessantly to help the artist get noticed. We repeat that sentence every year. It's true then and try now. Runner-up this year was Gentry-Jones. We debated on whether to include this duo since the "G" and "J" were part of G.J.S. (the "S" being Mr. Sam) who released the hit album "Roll It Roll It" so they really aren't "new" but we included them. Other nominees included C-Wright, Audi-Yo, Melody Gold, Coup DeVille, D Whit, Emerson Hill and Candice G. Second runner-up was King Fred but Black Diamond is the "Best New Artist" of 2017. There were also numerous write-ins. Some were already nomnated in past years and some could end up in next year's poll. Already nominated other years or not "new" were Stan Butler, Crystal Thomas, Shay Denise, Miss Portia, Jeter Jones, Tha Don, Tre Williams, Sharnette Hyter, Solomon Thompson, Karen Wolfe, Luster Baker, J-Wonn, Cold Drank and J-Red. Other write-ins that may be in next year's poll were J Fitz, C'Lamont, Emerson Hill, P2K, Miss Lady Blues, Diva Dee, Joe Nice, Tara Queen Of The South, Ms. Genii, Anita Love, Nadia Green, Curtis Taylor, Crystale, Deacon Dukes, Joshua Fitzpatrick, Latrel and Ra-Shad The Blues Kid.
Best Record Producer(s) Of The Year
In Southern Soul key record producers have dominated the genre for years now. Following the scaling back of new product from Malaco/Waldoxy and Mardi Gras Records record producers like John Ward of Ecko Records and Carl Marshall of CDS Records became the hardest working men in the business. The two related labels were still signing artists and putting out new titles seemingly monthly. Independent artists were still trying to sign with the established labels but times began to change. Several established artists had already proved they could do it on their own. Following a stint with Ichiban Records William Bell created his Wilbe label, which launched the careers of Jeff Floyd, Lola and the late Fred Bolton. You had IFGAM Records run by Theodis Ealey (also after leaving the now defunct Ichiban) on which Ealey released his own music in addition to artists like Willie Hill, Lebrado and Doc Blakey. This year's "Best Record Producer Of The Year" T.K. Soul made his name from the get go with his own label Soulful Records as did Wendell B. with Smoothway Ent.. Meanwhile, Bigg Robb excelled with his own Over 25 Sound imprint on which he released his own albums as well as Da Problem Solvas and Special and Willie Clayton had the best of both worlds. He has his own End Zone Ent., which released his own albums as well as material by Omar Cunningham and Tyrone Davis. He also signed with Malaco Records for a stretch before going independent again. As the years passed more and more small labels began appearing. Coday Records (formerly B & J) and Ross Music Group being notable examples.
T.K. Soul has expanded his roster by cutting tracks on other artists and the results have been paying off. Luster Baker (aka "Mr. Juicy"), Tha Don, Nathaniel Kimble, Rhomey, Magic One, Lady Soul, Vickie Baker, etc, are among the guests. Ricky White has been doing the same in partnership with CDS Records. White has released a series of "Combination" albums featuring artists like Ghetto Cowboy, Donnie Ray, Stephanie Pickett, Nathaniel Kimble. Bettye Padgett, Bobbye Doll Johnson, William Calhoun & others. Daniel Ross aka "Beat Flippa" has had some of the hottest hands for several years now. Having won "Best Record Producer" once already this is the second straight year he comes in second (runner-up). Other studio maestros receiving nominations were John Ward (Ms. Jody, O.B. Buchana, Jaye Hammer, others), Big Yayo (Chris Mabry) (Big Yayo, Omar Cunningham, Gentry Jones, etc.), Michael Lockett (Sharnette Hyter, Patrick Henry, etc.), Ron G. (Miss Lady Blues, Columbus Toy, Napoleon Demps, Big Ro Williams, Adrena, others), Jerry Flood (Tre Williams, Lacee), J Red-The Nephew (J-Red, Shay Denise. etc.), Jeter Jones, Simeo Overall, Lomax Spaulding. Floyd Hamberlin Jr. and Bigg Robb.
The BLUES CRITIC staff picks...
SOUTHERN SOUL ARTIST OF THE YEAR
Bigg Robb is the best selling artist in Southern Soul. Big names like his are vital to the music business as they attract music buyers to stores. In 2017 Robb had three albums racking up sales. 2016's "Got My Whiskey Party" was still selling briskly at the beginning of 2017 (having been released in November of the previous year). In October 2017 Robb released the brand new album "Born 2 Do This", which hit number one on the "Top 30 Southern Soul, Rhythm & Blues Albums Chart" and is still in the top 3. As if that wasn't enough Robb released yet another (mostly) new album entitled "Bigg Robb's Christmas Party", which combined all the Christmas songs from the now deleted "Merry Christmas From The Bigg Man" with six brand new holiday tracks. That's three Bigg Robb albums in just under 13 months time!
We very nearly chose Daniel Ross aka "Beat Flippa", which would have been the first time we chose a writer/record producer over an artist. Ross of Ross Music Group released two movies with soundtracks. When I say movie I mean an actual movie, a drama, not a live concert. "My Side Piece" the movie (DVD + CD) and "Blues For Life" (DVD + CD) were innovative ways to cater to the Southern Soul audience. Ross also released the popular "mixtape" "Trailride Music Volume 1" and Pokey Bear's latest CD, "Bear Season". If we gave awards for "Record Label Of The Year" it would be a close contest between Ross Music Group and Ecko Records. I could also add TK Soul's Soulful Records to the running. T.K. has been concentrating more as a record producer while still doing his own thing. After releasing two compilation albums of new material in 2016 ("Southern Soul Mixtape Vol. 1" & "Southern Soul Mixtape Vol. 2") he dropped another top seller in 2017, "Southern Soul Mixtape Vol. 3".
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