Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Howard Tate

  • Howard Tate [Verve, 1967] A-
  • Howard Tate's Reaction [Turntable, 1970] B
  • Howard Tate [Atlantic, 1972] A-
  • Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions [Mercury, 1995] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Howard Tate [Verve, 1967]
Collect a series of singles (including several not on the original 1967 configuration, Get It While You Can, which I can't locate) that never quite broke pop and you have a concept album in reverse. It nevertheless (or therefore) qualifies as the underground soul LP, offering quality songwriting, welcome dollops of humor, and a solid, danceable groove. Tate shouts and keens in a slightly sweeter version of the hoarse gospel style bequeathed by Julius Cheeks to James Brown and Wilson Pickett, and producer Jerry Ragavoy avoids his characteristic melodrama while grafting on instrumental voicings from B.B. King as well as Stax-Volt, an obvious otherwise unexploited combination. A-

Howard Tate's Reaction [Turntable, 1970]
Born in Macon and resident in Philadelphia, Tate is a truly underground soul singer whose few small late-'60s hits (collected on one superb Verve LP) have earned him a rep among cognoscenti as diverse as Mike Bloomfield and Mark Farner. This album, produced by underground schlock-soul singers Lloyd Price and Johnny Nash in Jamaica, is based on even smaller hits. One of them, "These Are the Things That Make Me Know You're Gone" ("refrigerator left ajar," like that), dishonors his rep. But "My Soul's Got a Hole in It" doesn't, and Tate's voice is potent enough to activate more inert material. Cognoscenti will dig. B

Howard Tate [Atlantic, 1972]
In which Jerry Ragovoy sets out once again to prove to a callous world that the man with the high aaahh deserves better than a hack license between visits to the studio. This does almost as much for Tate's amazing vocal and emotional range--as cocksure as Wilson Pickett one moment, as sweet and hurting as B.B. King the next, and as corny as Joe Tex to top it off--as his Verve stuff with Ragovoy. Reservation: a few too many compositions by the producer. "She's a Burglar" and "Keep Cool, Don't Be a Fool" are as memorable as "Piece of My Heart," but I don't know about the hitchhiking song. How about a little "Good Rockin' Tonight," Jerry? A-

Get It While You Can: The Legendary Sessions [Mercury, 1995]
The CD biz caught up with both Great Lost Soul Men in 1995. Razor & Tie's The Essential James Carr documents a Memphis depressive who feels everything and understands nothing, and although the half that wasn't on Blue Side's 1987 At the Dark End of the Street is markedly less distinctive than the half that was, it'll sure make you wonder what Eddie Vedder has to get so upset about. Tate is a blues-drenched Macon native who had the desire to head north and sounds it every time he gooses a lament with one of the trademark keens that signify the escape he never achieved. He brought out the best in soul pro Jerry Ragovoy, who made Tate's records jump instead of arranging them into submission, and gave him lyrics with some wit to them besides. In return, Ragovoy brought out the best in Tate. So corporate politics be damned--I'm docking this a notch for ignoring their great lost '72 Atlantic collaboration. A-

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