Best Southern-Soul Singer Based in the North

Nellie "Tiger" Travis

Critics' Picks

Nellie "Tiger" Travis is a postmodern blues diva, equal parts sass, class, brazenness, and vulnerability. "Slap Yo' Weave Off," from 2008's I'm a Woman (CDS), is a wickedly satisfying bad-girl throwdown; on the same album, "Don't Talk to Me" is an anguished breakup song, Travis's taut vibrato quivering with emotion as she reluctantly kicks her ex to the curb. Her biggest success so far, though, has been last year's "Mr. Sexy Man": with a propulsive groove powering an insistent refrain of "What yo' name is? What yo' name is?," it became an immediate club favorite, and it's still a mainstay on soul-blues radio. In its wake, several of Travis's earlier songs—including "If I Back It Up," "You Gone Make Me Cheat," and the more serious-minded "M.O.D. (Man on Drugs)"—have enjoyed something of a resurgence. That makes her both a contemporary stylist and a fount of instant nostalgia—perfect for a genre in which the life lessons and hard-won wisdom of "grown folks music" compete with shamelessly adolescent-sounding double entendres and sexual high jinks.