The current queen of Southern Soul hits us with another cracking album, I say current, she’s been sitting at the top table for easily 15 years now. Others come and go without the longevity, but Nellie puts these albums out without too much fanfare and lets her faithful mop them up as soon as they hit the streets. On every album there is a killer ballad or scintillating dancer, she mastered the art of that swaggering, head-nodding, foot-tapping beat years ago. It’s insidious and seeps into your very being, stays with you for days, with a voice that so obviously came out of the church, she’s blessed with a unique immediately recognizable voice, full of depth, passion and when its needed grits.
Born in the early ’60s in the deep South, Mound Bayou, Mississippi, for the most part, she was raised by her grandmother who was a minister and sang in the church. Nellie began singing in the church at the age of 5 years through to her early teens, her family is rooted in music both singing and musicianship. She graduated from the John F Kennedy High School in 1979 and eventually relocating to Los Angeles launching her singing career moving to Chicago in 1992 only to be mentored by Koko Taylor, a giant of the RnB and soul world. Nellie added “Tiger” to her name after feeling she needed something to standout amongst the pack and didn’t take her long to establish herself on the Chicago Blues circuit, sharing stages with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Bobby Rich, Otis Clay and Little Milton. I have all of her albums here on the shelves and she has been consistent throughout and lyrically great. We all know modern southern soul albums don’t have a wealth of instruments generally, mostly are supported by synthesizers, there are artists like Sir Charles Jones, Willie Clayton and Nellie we can pull it off.
So to this album then. Three tracks have taken front running; “Don’t Talk To Me” is possibly the ballad of the year, six-plus minutes of gut-wrenching agony as she finds out her love has been playing away, lyrically masterful and powerful enough to stop you dead in your tracks with impassioned vocals over a slow tick-tock rhythm supplied by the edge of a drum and possibly a bass. With a wavering voice, she tells him “This marriage is shot to hell”, female backing coming in out reinforcing the notion it’s over, this is simply stunning on every level. And if you haven’t been totally drained by that then “Who Knows You” will finish you off – another searing ballad with an unknown male voice, straining at the leash to make his mark, but Nellie ain’t finished yet, in she comes masterfully taking her rightful place. What a fabulous duet this is, soul radio should be all over these. The other biggie on here is the two-step monster “I’m With You Baby”. I can state without any fear of contradiction that this could and should blow up everywhere, what a shame we can’t get together the way we used to as this would destroy the floor at the Soul Essence and Soul4Real weekenders – this is just so damn irresistible. She’s telling her man she is with him, ignore what’s being said on the streets, she will do anything for him, so so good. The upbeat dancer, “I’m A Woman”, has that groove going on that makes you move with an unknown instrument in the background that sounds like a twanging elastic band, I kid you not, it has me moving whilst typing. One of the main problems of these digital promo advance albums is that very often they have no release sheet, I’d love to know who the male singer is, who played what, who wrote the lyrics, where it was cut, all the usual stuff, but alas I can’t find anything on the net either. “MOD” (Man on drugs) is another great dancer, strong storyline, it’s a strange one this, on some of the tracks it’s clearly just a synth but then on others, it sounds like a real drummer and bass, guitar solos, sadly though, no real horns, which would really take this album up that last notch. Another real grower is the subtle funky “Tornado Wrapped In Fire”, now we really do have real instruments and it really does make for a better sound, percussion, bass, keys provide the backdrop, great stuff. Listen, I’ve rambled on far too long, go get this 18 tracker, it could be your album of the year, for me it’s well up there.