Conya Doss: Poem About Ms. Doss

Mark Anthony Neal

Conya Doss

Poem About Ms. Doss

Label: Orpheus
US Release Date: 2002-08-13
UK Release Date: Available as import

Though the folks at corporate don't seem to know it yet, neo-soul is out and real soul music is in again. This is not a knock the neo-soul denizens and their grand icons, but just the reminder that the so-called neo-soul sound was nothin' more than what Baba Amiri Baraka (it all flows thru him, and if you ain't read Blues People you don't really get it) labeled nearly 40 years ago as the "Changing Same". Mosdef, the big label, moved a gank of music courtesy of the tag neo-soul -- Daniel Gray-Kontar notes that Alicia Keys, Maxwell, India.Arie, Badu, L-Boogie, D'Angelo, Macy Gray, and Jilly have moved 30 million units between them -- but more than anything, the so-called neo-soul movement allowed a few folks to take risks and do "they-own" thang. Sure, there's been some causalities -- Dionne Farris and Lauryn Hill to name just two (we all need to read Nikki Giovanni's "Poem for Aretha" to truly understand what L-Boogie's breakdown was about) -- but the real joys of this moment have come from the shit happening just beyond corporate radars -- joints from the likes Lewis Taylor (who really jump-started the neo-soul moment with Lewis Taylor), Fertile Ground (who defy simple definitions) N'Dambi, and Calvin Richardson. Cleveland native Conya Doss is now likely to join the ranks of these "secret gems" with the release of her debut A Poem About Ms. Doss.

Doss is the latest of a cadre of folks who have come out of the Cleveland metro area, including legendary ones like Eddie and Gerald Levert and most recently Bone, Thugs, and Harmony and "Little Kelly" (Avant). While Doss has been singing since she was a child (singing Natalie Cole's "I've Got Love on My Mind" at family gatherings), she eschewed a formal singing career, instead choosing a career in education -- Doss is a special education teacher in the Cleveland pubic school system. Doss had auditioned for and successfully earned a gig to be a back-up for Gerald Levert (president of the "Pretty Big Man's Club") while in college, but as she told Gray-Kontar, "being on the road seemed as though it was going to conflict with school" so she turned it down. While doing the "teacha, teacha" thing in a serious way, Doss often visited the studio of producer Edwin "Tony" Nichols, who has laced "G-love" and a few others over the year. Doss began co-writing songs with Nichols (he the music, she the lyrics) shortly thereafter. When Nichols became the head of the fledgling Cleveland-based label Nu Mecca, Doss became the label's first signee. A Poem About Ms. Doss is a conscious attempt to replicate the indie-soul success of Jill Scott and Hidden Beach Records. Nu Mecca is distributed by Orpheus Music, which also distributes Juve's UTP Records and Evander Holyfield's Real Deal imprint.

"First Cup of Coffee", the lead single from A Poem About Ms. Doss, began getting airplay in the Cleveland area as early as February of this year. The song, which borrows riffs from Jilly's "Try", is a classic morning drive time ditty (intimated in the title) that features Doss's sassy vocals. Doss sounds a little like L-Boogie on "You Really Hurt Me" (it's in the pleading and the yearning) which references Curtis Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love". The two songs, along with "Feelin' You" are the only musically up-beat tracks on the disc as Doss's strength lies is her reading of ballads and mid-tempos.

On the sunny "One More Try" and "All Because of You", Doss flows supply over the un-intrusive grooves of Myron Davis and Nichols, allowing her voice a clear forum. In so many of the projects labeled neo-soul, the music itself has taken center stage often pushing the vocalist to the background. The prominence of neo-soul sound production has allowed many labels to just plug voices into grooves, creating the context where some marginal singers have been allowed to flourish at the expense of those who can bring the spirit when the spirit needs to be brought. Nichols wisely employs the same laid back strategy on tracks like "So Fly" and "Smile Again", which like most of the disc were co-written by Doss. The only track where the music does seem intrusive is Doss's over-wrought re-make of Norman Connors and Michael Henderson's "You Are My Starship". A shout out for spreading some luv on the classic but a suggestion to move cautiously on remakes in the future.

The real gems on A Poem About Ms. Doss are the slow-drag ballads. The "blue-light in the basement" flow of "Meantime" sounds as if could have been recorded by the Jones Girls two decades ago. "That's Not Love" riffs from the best of the contemporary "blue funk" tapping into a soundscape that simultaneously draws from Dr. Dre, D'Angelo, and Touch of Jazz. Other standouts include "Heaven", which features vocalist Zero and the interlude "Zoning in My Dome" which gives the clearest window into Doss spirit and should have been recorded as a full-length track.

A Poem About Ms. Doss breaks no new artistic ground, but is a solid debut by a vocalist who deserves much more visibility than a host of folks who get more airplay than their talents suggest.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.