The following review has appeared in issue 322 of Jazz & Blues Report (December 2009 to January 15, 2010) on page 13, and the issue can be downloaded at www.jazz-blues.com. For purposes of FTC regulations which may be applicable, the review copy of the CD was received directly from Sista Monica and Mo Muscle Music.
Vasti Jackson was the one who described Sista Monica Parker as “The Lioness of the Blues,” which suggests the power she brings to her performances. In the writer’s humble opinion, she has been the finest female blues singer of the past decade and a half. I have had the pleasure of seeing her at the 1997 D.C. Blues Festival, one of the few performances she has made on the East Coast of the US and it was one of the most memorable performances in the 20 odd years of this event. She can belt out the blues with the power of Etta James, Koko Taylor or Big Maybelle, yet she delivers and caresses the lyrics with the subtlety of Ruth Brown and Irma Thomas. Her new CD, “Soul Blues & Ballads,” is a compilation of her recordings over the past 15 years. On her website she expounds about the songs here, “They have been carefully tucked between up-tempo, high energy, rock n’ Chicago style blues songs on eight (8) different CDs. They span almost two decades of expressing my love, my lessons, and my losses. I have had to let go and live on. It’s been healing to sing my blues!” On the CD insert she dedicates this to the three great women who inspired and influenced her Katie Webster, Koko Taylor and Ruth Brown. “These women paved the way for me to open up and write about my heartaches and expose my woundedness.”
As for the music, there is a focus on slower and medium tempo songs where she caresses a lyric and goes from a whisper to a scream (to borrow the title of a classic Esther Philips album and Allen Toussaint song). The opening “I’m a Woman,” by Vasti Jackson, is a different song from the Leiber-Stoller song associated with Peggy Lee and others or the Koko Taylor answer to Muddy Waters and Bo Diddley, while her own “Honey’s It’s Your Fault,” with Danny Beconcini on keyboards and Larry McCray on guitar, is a strong mix of singing and spoken parts. “Behind My Back,” is another strong soulful performance about how her lover has been cheating on her with Monica belting out about how “you have been playing behind my back with my best friend,” and not taking it anymore. Notice how relaxed and powerful her singing is. She opens “Leave the Door Open,” almost whispering before she starts singing about loving her baby down to her bone and wondering if enough to stay at home but tired of fighting about every little bitty thing. “I’m leaving the door open and you can come through,” with nice organ and jazzy guitar from Chris Cain. Most would emote or sing over the top on Etta James’ “Come To Mama,” but Sista Monica is right on the money here with an outstanding piano solo. I’m not gonna go through every track, but a couple standout. One can look at how she and her accompaniment build things up so her vocal and the backing just explode towards the end of “Never Say Never,” as well as on Katie Webster’s, “Pussycat Moan,” where she sings about a woman who is mad at her lover, and moans about him telling her best friend “he didn’t want her no more,” but knowing its a lie because when Sista turns her back he tries to come in Sista’s back door with a terrific piano solo break from Beconcini before she comes back in snarling “why don’t you pack your bags, don’t you see I don’t need you no more … this here pussycat ain’t gonna be your pussycat no more,” then vocalizing and moaning against Mike Osborne’s blistering guitar. From her first CD, “Get Out of My Way,” this still resonates and sounds as fresh today as when it first came out. The CD closes with the uplifting gospel-soul rendition of Warren Haynes “Soul Shine.”
There is a generous amount of music here with thirteen outstanding performances for about 70 minutes by one of the blues and R&B world’s finest singers here. I add that she could have selected from her earlier recordings, a dozen different performances and had as compelling a recording. She is just that dynamic and soulful. For those lacking anything by the Sista, here is a good place to start. This is available at cdbaby, amazon, itunes, rhapsody and other locations. For more information on Sista Monica, and her other recordings, performance schedule and such, go to her website, www.sistamonica.com.