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Smokey Tango is Laura Tate’s sixth release and the second that I have had the pleasure of working with. While writing about Live From El Paso – her last release that garnered several award nominations and was atop the Roots Music Jazzy Blues chart for better than six months – I spent a lot of time talking about her varied achievements in pretty much all of the entertainment fields. That said, should you not be aware of her extremely diversified career, you do need to click the website link at the bottom of this review.

With most of the band from that last release intact, on Smokey Tango, vocalist extraordinaire Laura Tate is joined by: the disc’s producer, Grammy Award nominee musician, songwriter, Terry Wilson on bass, rhythm, slide and acoustic guitars plus percussion, strings, Wurlitzer and backing vocals; Richard Millsap on drums; Billy Watts on lead, slide, rhythm and acoustic guitars; Jeff Paris on piano, B3 organ, Wurlitzer, acoustic guitar, mandolin, strings and percussion; Paulie Cerra on horn arrangements and saxophone; Darrell Leonard on horn arrangements, trumpet and trombone; Teresa James on piano and backing vocals; and Terry’s daughter, Lucy Wilson on backing vocals. Of the disc’s twelve tracks, one is an original penned by Terry and Teresa with the other eleven being covers that feature strong Bayou influences.

The disc opens with “Yellow Moon” (A & J. Neville), the title track of the The Neville Brothers album which won them a Grammy. Not being familiar with the song, I found and listened to a killer live performance of it that featured Herbie Hancock and John Hiatt. That said, other than toning it down just a bit, Laura and the band kept it very real. From her velvety vocals, to the spell binding rhythm and percussion, to the mystical horn chords, to the graceful piano leads, everything about this performance was masterfully done.

This is a song about – as the saying goes – getting out of Dodge. Apparently, the time has severely come for Laura to have a change of scenery and from the excitement in her voice, she is very happy to “About to Get Gone” (D. McSparran). Although she doesn’t care where the heck she ends up, I think it’s my duty to suggest she remove Hackensack from her list of possible destinations. The lively, uptempo vibe the band is putting out is indeed perfect traveling music.

Think about you and a partner performing a sexy tango in a smokey jazz lounge, with a sultry jazz singer seductively belting out a song’s sizzling lyrics. If you were able to do that you are now in the Ruby Cafe, where if it’s romantic intentions you’re looking for, there is a menu on the door. One item on that menu pretty much guarantees you’ll find someone who will want to do the “Smokey Tango” (M. Harker) with you. Vocally, Laura’s got the ‘sultry jazz singer seductively belting out a song’s sizzling lyrics’ part covered quite well; on the backup vocals Teresa and Lucy have the extra added sex appeal covered equally as well; and musically, on top of the band laying down the perfect feel for all this to happen, Terry’s deep bass lines will take that already thumpin’ heart of yours up a beat or two. With my curiosity getting the best of me I needed to know if the original version of this song had the sizzle that this rendition has and with that said, let me just say it’s my belief that Laura now owns the song.

Admittedly, things I read about this song confused me enough to actually lead me to look into it more, and the more I found out, the more I got confused. Therefore, to steal a phrase from the song, “I can’t tell ya” much about “A Certain Guy” (Naomi Neville – sort of). What I can tell ya is it’s a fun song with lots of sass and catchy sing-a-long lyrics that had me thinking Petula Clark could have easily done the original.

It’s my opinion that with the emotion she puts into it and the vocal range she showcases on it, that Laura’s rendition of the Percy Sledge’s hit “It Tears me Up” (D. Oldham & D. Pennington) is her best vocal performance on the disc. With the number of replays I gave it, I’m taking the liberty of adding it to the one sheet’s “note to radio” section as one that is well worthy of spins.

The disc’s only original song was written by Terry Wilson and Teresa James of The Rhythm Tramps fame (and I do mean fame). It’s a tale about a monster known as “Rougarou”, who lurks around the murky swamps along the Bayou in Louisiana. As Laura warns, “Don’t let your children out after the sun goes down; don’t let them play near the woods or on the outskirts of town; ’cause if you do, the Rougarou will get them”. The deep and dark rhythm, along with the eerie horn and keyboard vibes, are the perfect musical accompaniment for the spooky lyrics.

Other songs on another fabulous outing for Laura Tate and company include:
“I Heard A Rumor” (D. Everitt); “Against My Will” (S. Bruton & D. O’Brian); “Champagne Melody” (A. Low); Deep Purple’s “Smoke on The Water” (Blackmore/Gillan/Glover/Paice/Lord); “School Boy Love” (G. Sutton) and “Lovers Game” (D. Everitt).

To find out more about Laura Tate just go to her website – www.musicbylauratate.com – Peter “Blewzzman” Lauro

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