Bless My Soul

As I sit here, pondering what ponderers usually ponder and listening to the radio in a rare moment of non-CD music enjoyment, I have discovered something really cool: soul music is coming back. Now, you might say to yourself, “That Nerd’s crazy. Soul music never left.” and you’d be right. But, it did vanish for a long time as rap, techno and other forms of synthesized dance music took over.

Over the past few years, however, there has been quite a renaissance of what can only be called The Funk.

I first felt soul was coming back when I heard Joss Stone’s first album. To hear a British teenager sing with such soul made me feel there was something bubbling underground I hadn’t heard about yet. That soul queen Betty Wright produced Stone’s album – that she would even be given a chance to do that for an artist on a major label – made the feeling intensify. Of course, there is a big Northern soul movement in the UK – Northern meaning US-based soul stars, usually obscure at that – but there has been a Northern soul scene in Britain since the early ’70’s so I knew that wasn’t it.

After the success of Stone came a lot of career resurrections for various soul heavyweights of the past: Wright as a hit producer, Al Green reunited with Willie Mitchell for two great CDs, Solomon Burke put out a marvelous CD on Anti produced by T-Bopne Burnett, Bettye Lavette put out two great CDs, the late Eddie Hinton has been rediscovered, obscure soul titan Howard Tate was found and has had albums put out, Soul group Black Merda has been making great new music, Don Covay released a fine disc and many more. All this has happened since the turn of the millenium.

New artists have been plying the soul trade as well, aiming for Sam Cooke most of the time. Earl Thomas, James Hunter, Ellis Hooks have all been cast as Cooke-alikes – aiming for the suaveness and retor sounds Cooke made famous.

There have also been a plethora of archive releases from new labels specializing in vintage soul. Labels like The Numero Group, Ubiquity, Light In The Attic and many others. Rappers have even gotten into the soul game including Madlib with his Stone’s Throw label, specializing in modern variations of classic soul grooves. Not to mention the blogs and websites galore dedicated to the music.

It seems a new day is dawning in the world of soul and I couldn’t be happier about it. Once again music with heart, soul and meaning is rising to the forefront and I couldn’t be happier.

And as usual, you’ll be reading about the best of it in my blog.

How is your soul?

The Music Nerd knows…..

Look at Howard Tate Run, Run

Ever since the millenium rolled around it seems the music gods pick one old soul star from the ’60’s or ’70’s to resurrect each year. They come complete with accolades and shiny new albums sounding as much like their vintage selves as they possibly can.

Think about it: Since the millenium, Betty Wright has resurrected herself as a producer and songwriter for the young, nubile soul star Joss Stone, helping Stone out for her two albums to date. Al Green reunited with his old producer Willie Mitchell and put out two collections of songs sounding almost exactly like his best Hi Records work (one of which, I Can’t Stop, is a modern-day classic). Solomon Burke put out the almost-perfect album Don’t Give Up On Me a few years ago on Epitaph subsidiary Anti and got some of the best reviews of his career. Under-appreciated soulwoman Bettye Lavette has turned out a few fantastic albums (the latest and best of which also released on Anti) in the last couple of years which have garnered tons and tons of praise (which they completely deserve, by the way) and uber-obscure cult singer Howard Tate has re-appeared out of nowhere to reclaim his career. A career he vanished from in the mid-70’s.

Out of all of these re-appearances and resurrections, Tate has, by far, the more interesting story. In the ’60’s Tate had sung gospel and had a stint as vocalist for organist Bill Doggett before branching out on his own. Together with legendary producer/songwriter Jerry Ragovoy, Tate recorded some moderately successful singles and albums for Verve, Lloyd Price’s Turntable label and, finally Atlantic Records. By 1974, however, Tate had grown tired of his moderate success and simply vanished off of the face of the earth, at least as far as his musical career went.

Unlike enigmatic soulman Bill Withers who simply quit the biz and went back to carpentry when his hits dried up, Tate’s disappearance had to do with something more sinister than just a “retirement”. Tate’s problems had to do with substance abuse. For a long while, almost fifteen years, Tate was homeless, living on the streets, unrecognizable to the very public who had cheered him just a few years before. Thankfully, he eventually was helped, brought to a mission and straightened out his life. When he was rediscovered a few years back (by a soul DJ who got sick of people asking him what happened to Tate and decided to go and find him himself) Tate had turned his life around and was a counseler for the addicted.

Though Tate hadn’t sung in public for many years, he was soon reunited with Ragovoy for a new record that came out in 2003, the very good and aptly titled Rediscovered. Last year, Tate released one hell of a live record called Get It While You Can. Please search it out. It is one of the best live documents of a soul singer I have heard in years. Though it does lack a defining “go crazy crescendo”, it is very solid throughout and contains all of Tate’s hits like Look At Granny Run Run, Ain’t Nobody Home, Try A Little Bit Harder and Get It While You Can.

Redemption is always great to experience, whether it be your own or watching someone else who really deserves it get some. Howard Tate deserves all the accolades he can acquire in the time he has left (hopefully lots) and I hope he records a lot more and I hope you go out and try to hear some of his music because if you like classic soul, you’ll love Howard Tate. Check out his old stuff too. It’s hard to find but it’s all been reissued so just look for it.

Are you smart enough to Get It While You Can?

The Music Nerd knows……..