Laura Tate – Live From El Paso
811 Gold Records – 2020
12 tracks; 50 minutes
Laura Tate is an actress and singer who is based in El Paso, Texas, where this album was recorded. Laura revisits most of the material from her 2017 album Let’s Just Be Real, together with three songs from 2016’s I Must Be Dreaming and handles all lead vocals with a stellar band behind her that includes members of both The Phantom Blues Band (Tony Braunagel on drums, Joe Sublett on sax and Darrell Leonard on trumpet) and Teresa James & The Rhythm Tramps (Teresa on backing vocals, Terry Wilson on bass/B/V’s); the rest of the band is Lee Thornburg on trombone, Jeff Paris on piano/B/V’s and Doug Hamblin on guitar. Laura includes four songs by Californian Mel Harker whose songs were the focus of I Must Be Dreaming, three written by Terry Wilson, plus covers that include Allen Toussaint and Stephen Bruton.
It should be stated from the outset that this is not a blues album, rather a good selection of songs that run across Americana, soul and rhythm and blues, even including some touches of jazz in the mix. Laura sings well throughout and “No Place To Hide” is a fine start with Joe Sublett playing some lovely sax and again featuring on “I’ll Find Someone Who Will”, one from The Rhythm Tramps catalogue. A very interesting version of Phil Lynott’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” moves the song well away from Thin Lizzy’s original, the first verse played at a very slow pace before the horns develop the song into a big band production that works very well, the trumpet work being particularly notable. A late night feel pervades “I Need A Man” which is perhaps the closest to blues we get with trombone and piano featured before Laura has fun with “Hittin’ On Nothing”, an Allen Toussaint song under his pseudonym Naomi Neville and once a hit for Irma Thomas.
A run of four slower-paced tunes comes mid-album, starting with the semi-spoken vocals on Terry’s “Can’t Say No”, Laura finding herself quite incapable of refusing a guy who only calls “when you’re down on your luck – I know you call me ‘cos I can’t say no”. “Still Got The Blues” is not the Gary Moore song but a Mel Harker and Doug McLeod collaboration and “Nobody Gets Hurt” is from the pen of the late Stephen Bruton, Jeff switching to electric piano while the horns sit this one out. Two more Mel Harker songs follow: the jazzy piano on “What A Way To Go” leads us into a rapid-fire vocal with guitar featured as the horns are again absent but they return to provide a warm cushion for “Cowboy Jazz”.
Laura finishes the set in style with two fine, uptempo numbers. “Big Top Hat” is a second dip into Stephen Bruton’s catalogue, a big production slice of Texas Rn’B with the whole band on top form, from the twinkling piano and powerful horn arrangement to Laura’s commanding vocal as she really enjoys the chorus: “Gonna have to learn to live with what you got to live without, I can see those tables a-turning, there ain’t a shadow of a doubt. Bet I get a phone call when you’re living hand to mouth. You can kiss my ass till my hat drops off, I’m heading South”. Terry and Jeff wrote “If That Ain’t Love” and it adds a dash of soul to the show with strong harmonies on the ear worm chorus and a Memphis style horn arrangement.
Laura has a relaxed style and conveys all the lyrics with clarity and a definite sense of what the song is seeking to convey, whether it be raw emotion or humor. For a live album the sound is excellent and the performances on the money with no excessive soloing from any of the band. Anyone who missed Laura’s last two albums can enjoy many of those songs here in live performance.