Soul legend Howard Tate has had a hell of a comeback since he vanished pretty near off the face of the earth after his self-titled 1972 album. Years of odd jobs, poverty and addiction followed, until he rebuilt his life in the mid-’80’s and slowly but steadily mounting his comeback that culminated in an album titled Rediscovered in 2003. Since then Tate has released a live album, another studio album and now this new release produced by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and otherwise poor-man’s-T-Bone-Burnett, Jon Tiven.
One might wonder why Tate has hooked up with Tiven, but a glance through Tiven’s discography reveals Tiven as an very sympathetic producer to soul stars who have seen better days but want to continue (or resume) their careers with as high quality an album as possible. Tiven has worked his magic on artists such as Big Star, Alex Chilton, Wilson Pickett, Don Covay, Felix Cavaliere, Steve Cropper, Don Nix and a host of other legends and veterans looking for someone who is not only a multi-instrumentalist but also capable of writing songs in accordance with what the artist is used to and what will show off their abilities to the utmost. For the most part, Tiven comes through for Tate here, though there are several flaws.
The lead-off track (and single) is a “tribute” of sorts to Amy Winehouse entitled “Miss Beehive” and contains the chorus couplet “Miss Beehive likes to misbehave”. Now, not only is the chorus a punchline to a tired joke (Winehouse’s life, that is) already spun through the media for several years now (it might have played better if it came out late 2006 or early 2007) but referencing the troubled diva in this way and also in the song’s verses dates the song. If Winehouse vanishes from view, the song becomes a useless novelty song on one will remember. Sure, it’s sometimes clever and catchy, but this is the legendary Howard Tate we’re are talking about – he deserves songs that will possible become timeless, as timeless as his soulful voice and elegant phrasing. I just feel it’s beneath his talent, is all.
Thankfully, Tiven provides many other songs more worthy of Tate’s prodigious skills. The trouble is (and this is my second caveat about this CD) there are simply too many of them on the album. Far be it from a dedicated soul fan like myself to complain about there being too much good stuff on one release, but by the end of this set, I found myself wishing about five songs were left off. My ears simply became numb to the sweet soul grooves and the CD ended up turning more into a sweet soul rut. While I am glad Tate is back and recording at a steady pace, I feel this CD was not planned properly and I would have preferred a twelve song CD with nothing but high points than what ended up as a okay CD that dragged a little too much. Still, this is Howard Tate singing his heart out so it’s not all bad. It’s just not what it could have been, either.