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R.I.P. Howard Tate (1939-2011)

R&B singer and songwriter Howard Tate passed away last Friday, December 2nd, of complications from multiple myeloma and leukemia at the age of 72. Born in Macon, Georgia in 1939, Tate and his family moved to Philadelphia in the early 1940s. One of Tate’s most popular songs, written by Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Shuman, was “Get It While You Can,” popularized by Janis Joplin. It was with Ragavoy that Tate recorded his best work including his 1966 debut album, Get It While You Can, and 1972′s self-titled release, his one and only album he recorded for Atlantic Records. Before his solo career, Tate was a member of the North Philadelphia doo-wop group The Gainors with Garnett Mimms.

Despite recording an excellent body of work, by the mid-’70s Tate threw in the towel as a musician. According to the New York Times:

He abandoned the music business in 1975. He sold securities to support his wife and six children but after a 13-year-old daughter died in a house fire the following year, his 19-year marriage ended and he descended into a world of drugs and alcohol. By 1983 he was living on the streets of Camden, sleeping in doorways or abandoned cars. “I turned to alcohol, drugs and cocaine,” Mr. Tate said in a telephone interview. “It took me down so low, I became homeless for 10 years. I was so bitter when I left the industry that I swore I would never give a glass of water to anybody in the music industry if I saw them dying of thirst.”

In the mid-’90s Tate had a religious experience that led him to become a preacher and he founded a local church. He also had a musical reunion with Jerry Ragavoy. The album they recorded together, Rediscovered was released in 2003.

Writing in Funky 16 Corners music blog, soul music aficionado, writer and DJ Larry Grogan captures the spirit of Tate nicely:

Despite the fact that Howard Tate managed to graze the Top 50 a few times, his impact on the world of music was largely an artistic triumph and a commercial failure. ‘Get It While You Can’ is one of the great, shoulda/coulda/woulda stories of it’s day. When you add up all the talent involved, and the incredible performance (I’d rate it alongside great soul ballad tours de force like Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ and James Carr’s ‘Dark End of the Street’), the end result should have been a huge hit, well remembered by one and all and dragged out perennially as an example of all that was great about 60’s soul.

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Recap: J.D. Souther with Magnolia Memoir Free At Noon

J. D. Souther was in classic form last Friday afternoon. He took the stage armed with his usual assets—gravelly voice, a deliberately scruffy beard, a repertoire of love songs, and a dozen stories to tell. With a multitude of awards and honors and a life-long career of writing for artists (ranging from Linda Ronstadt to The Eagles), it’s easy to bypass the beauty of his solo work for the chart-toppers that he allowed other artists to make their own. Playing from his new album, Natural History—on which he reclaims many of the songs that he wrote for other artists over the years—J. D. Souther showcased some of his best work in a style that shed his recent excursions into jazz and stripped away his associations with country rock. Telling jokes and stories and laughing as he mixed up tunings and played the beginnings of the wrong songs, Souther ambled recklessly and tenderly through his set.

Souther is an artist who never seems to age, despite the deepening laugh lines in his face. He came on stage with a kick—literally jumping out from back stage and kicking up his foot for an entrance. He opened by cracking a few jokes about how early the show was, claiming that he’s usually in bed drinking coffee at noon, and then, deadpan, admitted, “I realize it’s a little too early to start talking about drugs… Do you have any?” The audience loved it. He broke into a grin and launched into a soft, piano rendition of “Go Ahead and Rain.” His set was stripped down, and with minimal rhythm and melody from either his acoustic guitar or the piano, Souther sounded like he was channeling Paul Simon, if Paul Simon ever tried to seem gruffly funny between ballads. For his second song, Souther played “New Kid in Town,” accentuating the quiet beauty of the lyrics.

Natural History is packed with quiet moments that re-examine the brilliance of Souther’s work. He has described the album as “a real crooner,” and teased about buying copies this afternoon saying, “Don’t be afraid, they make excellent Christmas gifts.” His performance didn’t have a Christmas feel, exactly, but called to mind the holiday season in a different sense. This new spin on his older work made his songs seem as though they were written for a romantic comedy from the ’90s. This is an album to listen to while drinking coffee or eggnog on a snowy night. Yet, making the audience swoon wasn’t enough for Souther, who clearly preferred to make them laugh. He told stories about writing “You’re Only Lonely,” about being asleep when XPN came to pick him up from the hotel this morning, and explained that receiving the lifetime achievement award “just means you’re old.”

Souther’s reliably funny and touching set was comfortingly familiar, and his confidence as a veteran performer was obvious, especially because it was juxtaposed with the freshness of the band Magnolia Memoir who opened for him. Free At Noon shows do not usually feature openers, but as soon as the Magnolia Memoir front woman Mela Lee began to sing, it was clear why Souther was paired with the group. Had Magnolia Memoir toured with anyone less impressive, it would have stolen the show. Mela Lee’s voice is meltingly sweet and, as her bio promises, she actually has a five octave range. As a performer, Lee is a method actor. During the heart-breaking confessional “Good Girl,” she barely held back tears and she played with her hair nervously when she described the feeling of falling in love in “I Keep Falling.” In a black dress, subtle jewelry, soft curls and red lipstick, she looked like a femme fatale, but she sounded like a young woman in the throes of her first love. It was a captivating blend of the sexiness of jazz and the honesty of acoustic rock. Magnolia Memoir’s third song featured mandolin in place of piano and the group shifted effortlessly from jazz-and-rock to a more blues-and-country feel. The real shock of their set came when Lee thanked the audience and XPN, saying that this was their first ever radio appearance. It seems safe to say this was the first of many to come, but it’s always exciting to see a band that is genuinely grateful for a chance to perform.

That is not to say that J. D. Souther didn’t seem equally thrilled to play this afternoon. In fact, the level of excitement never dropped between artists, it simply changed. Magnolia Memoir brought the energy of a band that is literally on the verge of making it. Souther, with his fresh take on his older work, brought the infectious joy of an artist who knows that his work is loved, and loves the audience for it. After the show went off air, he came back on stage for an encore, and told the audience that he was playing one more song “because I love you.” “This is the last song, because that’s what it is,” he teased cryptically and wrapped up an afternoon of soulful music with his emotional hit “Closing Time.” —Naomi Shavin

Set List:
Magnolia Memoir
Good Girl
I Keep Falling
No More Wishes

J. D. Souther
Go Ahead and Rain
New Kid in Town
Silver Blue
Bye Bye Blackbird
I’ll Take Care of You
Little Victories
Ain’t Misbehavin’
You’re Only Lonely
Heartache Tonight
Closing Time (Encore)

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Listen to tUnE-yArDs’ interview and performance on XPN2

tune-yardsMerrill Garbus started tUnE-yArDs as an experiment in looping her voice and ukulele on a home recorder. Now tUnE-yArDs is a full fledged band, featuring bassist Nate Brenner. Merrill and Nate recently brought the sounds of tUnE-yArDs’ celebrated new album, w h o k i l l, to the XPN2 studios. Now you can stream the session whenever you like! With the help of a pair of saxophone players (cultivated from the Oakland jazz scene), tUnE-yArDs’ blending of folk, pop and R&B is as vibrant as ever. In the session, we’ll hear the band play a selection of songs from w h o k i l l, including XPN2 favorite “Gangsta.” XPN2′s Eric Schuman talks to Merrill about her global influences and the various roles she’s taken on throughout her career. Stream our session with tUnE-yArDs anytime with the XPN Media Player. Be sure to tune in for a brand new Studio Session every Friday at 3pm on XPN2!

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Listen to Washed Out’s interview and performance on XPN2

One of the most talked-about debut albums of the year is Within And Without from Georgia-based electronic musician Ernest Greene, also known as Washed Out. Greene and his band recently paid a visit to the XPN2 studios to share his music, and now you can stream the session whenever you like. In the session, we’ll hear the full-band version of Washed Out (which includes Greene’s wife, Blair, on keyboards) perform a selection of songs from Within And Without and a song from an earlier EP. XPN2′s Eric Schuman talks with Ernest about taking his music into a more atmospheric direction, and translating the bedroom project into a full touring group. You can stream our session with Washed Out anytime with the XPN Media Player. Be sure to listen for a brand new Studio Session every Friday at 3pm on XPN2!

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Tonight’s Concert Pick: Over The Rhine at World Cafe Live

Over The Rhine, though having undergone a few different line-ups through the years, has gone in and out of music consciousness for over two decades. Now made up of married couple Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, the Cincinnati-based group has released record after record of calm—if not a little sedated—coffee house rock. Now in its twenty-third year of existence, the group comes off riddled with self-reflection and the contemplative thoughts that apparently come from growing older. Over the Rhine’s website comes complete with journal entries detailing members’ reflection on older journal entries from way back when, trying to complete the circle. Over the Rhine performs with Milk Carton Kids at 8 p.m. at World Café Live (downstairs); tickets to the all-ages show are $25-$42. —Marielle Mondon

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Today’s My Morning Download: “Pineapple Girl” by Mister Heavenly from their XPN2 session


Mister Heavenly includes Nick Thorburn (Islands/The Unicorns), Ryan Kattner (Man Man), and Joe Plummer (Modest Mouse). When they performed at The Church on Friday, November 4th, the band stopped by the XPN studios and recorded a studio session for XPN2. The full session will be broadcast and webcast next Friday, December 9th at 3 p.m. on XPN2. We wanted to give you a special taste of the session. You can download “Pineapple Girl” below.