Single Review: Eliza Neals – “Sugar Daddy”

Eliza Neals w King Solomon Hicks

photo courtesy of E-H Records LLC

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Single Review of Eliza Neals: “Sugar Daddy” feat. King Solomon Hicks (E-H Records)

They call her the “Detroit Diva.” And, indeed, blues rock singer-songwriter/keyboardist Eliza Neals proudly wears that title as a badge of honor. The opera-trained blonde bombshell has been on the international music scene for more than two decades. She is a true independent artist, with a series of critically-acclaimed R&B-flavored albums to her credit. Neals has shared the stage and collaborated with such luminaries as Buddy Guy, Kenny Olson, Joe Louis Walker, Popa Chubby, Howard Glazer, and a host of blues and rock greats.

No doubt, however, perhaps her biggest influence can be found in frequent co-writer and mentor Barrett Strong. Strong, of course, is a legendary singer-songwriter that made his mark, first at Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records. His iconic “Money (That’s What I Want)” was the company’s first big breakout hit. The prolific tunesmith went on to write a series of songs for Gordy’s subsequent landmark enterprise Motown Records. “ I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “War,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” are just some of the chart toppers he and fellow composer/producer Norman Whitfield conceived within those hallowed studio walls.

Eliza Neals – "Sugar Daddy" feat. King Solomon Hicks

image courtesy of E-H Records LLC

That little history lesson brings us to today’s single at hand; the feel good summer of 2021 smash entitled “Sugar Daddy.” The tune was originally written by Strong, but re-arranged, with additional lyrics by Neals herself. The song features young NYC jazz/blues guitar sensation King Solomon Hicks on backing vocals. Michael Puwal (tremolo guitar/additional drums), Chris Vega (bass), Michael Galante (drums), and Tyrone Smith (Hammond B3/saxophone) round out this first rate band. It’s a light-hearted kind of tale that focuses on a relationship from an, appropriately, female perspective. In it Neals sings: “Well, I’m just a girl, and you know that I look real fine. But I love that man, he drive me outta my mind. He puts his lips to my ear, said what I love to hear… I’ll be your sugar daddy, you’s my man!” It carries on with that pseudo-romantic track for a minute, but then, when Neals finds her man fooling around with someone else, the tables get turned quickly in the bridge. She exudes gritty comeuppance, with the lines, “I take his money and I go and I play the town, and he knows my love ain’t true. People all say he should put me down. He’s a fool, he’s a fool, he’s a doggone fool!”

“Sugar Daddy” has a lot of bite and bluesy bravado, thanks to Neals’ raw, soulful vocals and Hicks’ stinging Robert Cray-like riffs. He lays the groundwork for the song’s balance of good-natured free-spirited fun and serious house rockin’ street cred. The tune has been a staple on Sirius XM’s BB King’s Bluesville channel since this past July. But that’s nothing new for the “Detroit Diva.” She’s been in consistent rotation on that pivotal blues network since her seminal Breaking and Entering album hit the charts in 2015. “Sugar Daddy” simply continues that groovy path of excellence for the incomparable Eliza Neals!

Looking Ahead

Eliza has a few upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of her website. On Saturday, December 18th, she’ll be at the South Orange Performing Arts Center in South Orange, NJ. On Saturday, February 12th, she’ll be performing at the Cincinnati Winter Blues Experience II in Cincinnati, OH. On Tuesday, April 26th, she’s scheduled to perform at the iconic 100 Club in London [where I saw Bob Malone in 2015 – GW]. And on Saturday, April 30th, she’s be at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, PA. Be sure to check Eliza’s website for more details on those shows and others as they’re scheduled.

Album Review: Eliza Neals – 10,000 Feet Below

Eliza Neals

photo by Jane Cassisi; photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger

Album Review of Eliza Neals: 10,000 Feet Below (E-H Records)

The “Detroit Diva” returns with this strong follow up to her critically-acclaimed album Breaking and Entering. That previous release made a bold transition from her bluesy soul and R&B rep to more of a harder blues/rock style. With 10,000 Feet BelowEliza Neals continues on that path by honing an even more defined vision of her craft. She is aided by frequent collaborator and award-winning guitarist Howard Glazer. But really she’s got some of the best musicians from Detroit, New Jersey and Nashville throwing down on this no holds barred collection of original Neals-penned gems.

Eliza Neals - 10,000 Feet Below

image courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

The album begins with an ode to a slick street-smart hustler named “Cleotus.” Right away, Neals and Glazer establish homage to the acoustic blues tradition with a simple but powerful pairing of soulful vocals and searing Dobro slide guitar. Neals delivers a tale that is compelling and chilling. “Another Lifetime” is currently blowing up on Sirius XM radio and for good reason. It’s a slow smoldering kind of blues that spins a yarn of lost love, again ignited by Glazer’s sensitive guitar licks. “Burn the Tent Down” is an incendiary mid-tempo rocker that has single written all over it. It’s a good time tune about southern barbecues and kicking that party vibe loose. Here Neals employs some of her considerable vocal skills as her multiple backups weave in and out in a most effective way. The title track “10,000 Feet Below” begins with Neals bellowing “Just got back from hell.” And then it’s all fire and brimstone from there! She has a way of really connecting words and feelings. You really feel her passion, which is further supported by her subtle piano stylings and Glazer’s tasteful electric fills. “You Ain’t My Dog No More” is kind of gimmicky but works in a novel sort of way. It’s just a fun Muddy Waters-like romp where Neals scolds her man for not treating her right; “No more treats”… indeed!

Eliza Neals

photo by Jane Cassisi; photo courtesy of Frank Roszak Promotions

At this juncture the “Detroit Diva” takes a break and delves into ballad territory with a sweet tune called “Cold Cold Night.” This features Paul Nelson on lead acoustic guitar. The song has a Stevie Nicks/Ellen McIllwaine sensibility to it. Neals can do a lot of amazing things with her voice, and this tune is a prime example of her melodic depth and range. That’s followed by the album’s sole cover tune in Skip James’ haunting “Hard Killing Floor.” The trio of Neals on keyboards, Glazer’s howling fills and drummer Demarcus Sumter’s spare accompaniment is meditative and riveting. “Call Me Moonshine” is another traditional sounding I-IV-V blues shaker that creeps along via Glazer’s sly turnarounds and Neal’s velvety Hammond B3 work. “Downhill on a Rocket” follows and is kind of a dark minor piece. The swampy New Orleans feel is further proffered by Neals’ line “Voodoo woman with a cross in her hand.” When she sings stuff like that it’s not just some line-reading off a corny script. She means business! The album concludes with another straight-ahead country blues track, “Merle Dixon,” and an atmospheric duet with legendary guitarist Billy Davis called “At the Crossroads.” Davis cut his teeth with classic artists like Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. He brings that veteran Motor City poise and mojo for a performance that appropriately puts the cap on this essential set of tunes.

Eliza Neals and her various musical co-horts she affectionately dubs “The Narcotics” (duly named because “they are dope!”) have done it again. Her hot and sultry brand of blues is for real, with enough radio-ready punch and songwriting savvy to break through modern media platforms in a big way. Look out!