Donnie Ray, Who’s Rockin’ You?

Posted on January 19, 2011 by

Artist: Donnie Ray
Title: Who’s Rockin’ You?
Label: Ecko 1129
Released: January 11, 1011

My musical weak spot is Southern soul; a true combination of church, r&b and Southern culture. It’s more about the temptations of the secular world and their battles with the heart and mind. It’s down home philosophy combined with hip shakin’ seduction.

Give me the music from the studios of Stax or Muscle Shoals and it can bring me out of the deepest of doldrums or raise me to a higher plane of existing bliss.

Like most musical genres, they hold a place in time. Soul music had its reign in the latter half of the 60s. With change of culture, times and social mores, music evolves and the styles become outdated.

The thing about Southern soul is that it never truly died. There are still artists out there carrying the torch and keeping juke joints lit in pockets of the South. No, it doesn’t have the national attention, but it still is a viable entity where there are small labels in the South producing Southern soul.

The biggest change in the music from then to now is the lack of some of the crucial elements, like horns, a real drummer, or the budget to hire a string section. All these are easily replaced by synthesized sounds, which generally make the music suffer.

I easily dismiss many of these releases because of those factors, but Who’s Rockin’ You? transcends those shortcomings with great hooks, good songs and Donnie Ray’s performance.

The arrangements of these songs are so well done that these synth-tones sound more natural than ever. Take for example the ballad, “Lover’s Paradise.” The programmed drums would sound great with a conga player driving the sexy undertow of rhythm, but the layers of sound, with some synthed baritone horns and some fine programmed strings, and it sounds like an eighties r&b hit, drenched in the soul.

Maybe it’s that the synth beats have become so prevalent in music that it’s not bothering me as much anymore. I’m sure becoming more familiar with the sounds helps, but I still think it has more to do with the overall production of this project. But like I told one of my soul confidants upon hearing this disc, “If this guy had a real string section and a couple of horns, we’d all be peeing in our pants.”

Admittedly, the synth sounds tend to lead to a bit more of an uptown Philly Soul vibe, but the vocals and sentiments are all from the South. The opening track, “A Good Woman” Donnie sings the praises of his woman over a smooth post-disco rhythm. “She make me say uh, uh, uh, uh, uh,” hitting the “uhs” on the downbeat. The man is so I in love, he just can’t articulate the feeling.

The title track is a dance floor filler, a classic cheatin’ song about when you’re out rockin’ the dance floor somebody’s at home rockin’ your baby. Beware brother, beware! “I Almost Did It” is similar in sentiment.

“Too Many Mechanics” is in the blues tradition filled with double entendres. “I came by to give you a tune up / Just the other night / Woman I took my time / Made sure that I did it right / I even checked your oil / And I greased it up real good / I came by the next day / you had another man under your hood!”

And in the same style, is “Love Monkey.” You just don’t find songs in the mainstream like this anymore. Well, I got a Love Monkey on my back / It’s more addictive than powder, pills or crack / I’m no different than a dope fiend junkie / ‘Til I can get in the sack / I got a Love Monkey on my back.” It’s kind of corny but it’s so true to the genre.

The arrangements, production and Donnie’s crooning make this a great contemporary soul record with a nod to the past. Keep the fire burning, Donnie and all the people at Ecko Records in Memphis. The flame may be smoldering, but you keep fanning the fire.

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