Laura Tate – Smokey Tango | Album Review

Laura Tate – Smokey Tango

Blue Heart Records

12 songs – 49 minutes

El Paso-based Laura Tate is a Texan born and bred, who is blessed with a voice and soul as varied, dynamic and distinctive as her home state. Smokey Tango is her sixth CD and is a very impressive demonstration of her jazz/soul/blues abilities.

Backed by a crack band, featuring Richard Millsap on drums, Billy Watts on guitar, Terry Wilson on bass, guitars, percussion, strings and Wurlitzer (Wilson also produced, engineered and mastered the album), Jeff Paris on piano, Wurlitzer, guitar, percussion and mandolin, Paulie Cerra on saxophone and horn arrangements, Darrell Leonard on trumpets and horn arrangements, Teresa James on piano and backing vocals and Lucy Wilson on backing vocals, Tate’s sultry, wry, knowing vocals flow over the music like liquid honey.

It was Wilson’s idea to produce a jazzy blues record with a New Orleans flair, and Tate is the ideal front person for such a project.

Opening with the Neville Brothers’ classic, “Yellow Moon” is certainly a ballsy move, given the otherworldly genius of the original, but Tate smartly chooses to adopt a wholly different, almost soul/jazz approach that nicely foreshadows the rest of the album. This is grown-up music, played with authority and no little emotional commitment.

In addition to “Yellow Moon”, we have Allen Toussaint’s classic “A Certain Girl”, re-imagined as “A Certain Guy”, Texan songwriter Danny Everitt’s “I Heard A Rumor” (with just a hint of disco added to the musical gumbo) and “Lover’s Game”, all sitting comfortably alongside Andy Fairweather Low’s “Champagne Melody”, Stephen Bruton’s “Against My Will” and the Terry Wilson/Teresa James original, “Rougarou”. “School Boy Love”, written by Wilson and Gregg Sutton, has a charming mid-80s feel to it and an earworm of a chorus. Mel Harker’s title track, by contrast, is about as jazzy as this album gets. By far the most left field track, however, is the smoky, late-night funk-jazz re-envisaging of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” (yes, that “Smoke On The Water”). Even more bizarre, it works perfectly in the context of Smokey Tango, emphasizing yet again just what can be accomplished with a bunch of top drawer musicians and a little imagination.

The album was recorded at Jesi-Lu Recording Studio, Canyon Country, CA, Jeff’s Garge, Studio City, CA, and Mystic Mountain Studios, Saugus, CA, and Wilson has succeeded in capturing an excellent “late night” sound that fits the music perfectly.

Smokey Tango is not an album of raucous fury or wild pyrotechnic solos. Rather, it focuses on the songs and on the superb vocals. But it is none the worse for that. This is a really enjoyable album. If Delbert McClinton were to record a jazzy blues album with his country music influences replaced with a dash of New Orleans, it would sound not dissimilar to Smokey Tango.

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