Howard Tate, Bettye LaVette | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Howard Tate, Bettye LaVette

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I wonder whether 30 years from now well-meaning musicologists will be resuscitating second-tier rappers like Memphis Bleek and Masta Killa, who'll thrill genteel audiences as reliably as the annual "rediscovery" of some minor R & B or soul "legend" (e.g., Solomon Burke) gooses the authenticity fetish of today's bourgeoisie. Journeyman blues singer Howard Tate slipped into obscurity in the 70s, found crack in the 80s, traded it for Jesus in the 90s, and last year released Rediscovered (Private Music). Although he never was Al Green and his upper register has eroded, Tate compensates for lost range with greater conversational ease--on the new version of his 1967 hit "Get It While You Can" he sounds wonderfully at peace with himself. Except for "She May Be White (but She Be Funky)," an assertion of man's inalienable right to mack on hot blonds, few tracks smack you in the chops, but only the cover of "Kiss" falls flat--Tate's controlled delivery sounds stiff measured against Prince's showboating falsetto or Tom Jones's stolid belting. Fortunately Tate's old producer Jerry Ragovoy has assembled a hotshot band (Rick Hinkle's pinched guitar work all but steals the show), and he knows how to record a snare drum so it cracks like an old lady's hip on bathroom tile. Since echoes of Tate's timbre can be heard in the voice of Robert Cray, tonight's pairing with Bettye LaVette is apt: her recent A Woman Like Me (Blues Express) was produced by and largely written by Cray's frequent collaborator Dennis Walker. LaVette's as strong an interpreter as Cray; her phrasing is thick and, in marked contrast to R & B's current melismania, she latches onto consonants, surrendering them only when she's good and ready. On the opening cut, "Serves Him Right," she savors the sibilance of the first word with such hateful glee I don't know whether to cheer or cower. Chicago Blues Machine (Koko Taylor's band) opens; Tate headlines. Friday, January 16, 7 PM, Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe; 312-902-1400.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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