If You're Feeling Minister

Any writer would get migraines trying to spin a yarn to match the real-life story of singer Howard Tate. It started with r&b hits on Verve with producer-songwriter Jerry Ragovoy in the '60s, followed by mob ties, Tate's virtual disappearance around 1980, personal tragedies, religious conversion, and his sudden emergence this year after Jersey DJ Phil Casden pleaded with listeners to find him. Garnering a rep among stars (with covers by B.B., Jimi, and Janis) and soul devotees, Tate's voice stretched words to their breaking point, and sure enough, a packed house howled almost as loudly as Tate for his first appearance here in decades at the Village Underground on Saturday. Ragovoy himself took a bow, later hugging his prodigy. With the Uptown Horns providing agile backing, Tate was now minus his pompadour, sporting a white suit and thick glasses. As befits a minister, his piercing wail sounded like a sermon's climax, complete with finger-pointing admonitions and hankie wipes of his sweaty brow.

Craig David strikes his own Heisman pose.
photo: Jay Muhlin
Craig David strikes his own Heisman pose.

His conviction was evident as he ran through his Verve material. "Every Day I Have the Blues" ("Nobody loves me/Nobody seems to care") seemed all the more authentic knowing he wandered the streets in his lost years. He tore into words like love ("lah-ah-oh-ah-ve") in his signature tune, "Get It While You Can," and meanest ("meeeeee-neh-est") in "How Come My Bulldog Don't Bark." Though he still commanded the varied hues of his vocal range, hitting high notes without straining, there were fewer vocal gymnastics than on his old recordings; here, he created peaks and valleys instead of constant highs.

At the end, he walked through the crowd pressing flesh as most of us surely thought, "We love you, Howard. We missed you and it's good to see you back." Hopefully, enough momentum from a European tour and a new Ragovoy-produced album should keep him from vanishing for another 20 years. —Jason Gross

Creatures of the Flesh

The booms and big cameras were up on Stanton Street recently, and the scene looked just like another Hollywood blockbuster in progress.

"Is this the new Pacino movie?" a curious Voice reporter asks a well-tattooed sound hand.

"Are you a fucking idiot?" he says. "This is the RZA video."

The RZA! Production mastermind and chief abbott of the Wu-Tang Clan? Yes, there he is, over there, in front of the El Sombrero restaurant. Or is it his mysterious alter ego, Bobby Digital, whom he describes as "a self-indulgent creature of the flesh who loves to womanize, party, spend money, and wear the latest fashions"? Who cares—the cameras are rolling.

The next take is short, but a real thriller. The effects team rigs a hose, piping water down the curb like a sewer main gone bust. Bobby stands on the sidewalk, wearing Allan Houston's jersey, periwinkle wallabies on his feet. His fists are coated in diamonds. Then he bends down, and, in a moment of epiphany, plunges his hands into the fake little river, retrieving a special bottle the size of a 22-ounce Budweiser. He holds it up to the sun. The label reads "Diablo."

The video is for "The Rhumba," an organ-based track that's set to a lazy, syncopated salsa beat—and supported by a flirty female chorus that just begs Bobby to do "a little rhumba dance." Method Man guests on the song, and the new album, Digital Bullet, is set for release August 28. (The record also features Ol' Dirty Bastard, who was sentenced last week to two to four years for possession of crack cocaine and is convinced there is a conspiracy to kill him in prison. "It's bugged out," RZA says about the situation, "serious as a heart attack.")

Bobby says the pop canción is his long-awaited tribute to "all the Spanish mamis" and "Butter-Pecan Ricans": Latina women who, in the hotter months of the year, dress in minimal attire and walk with an aggressive—potentially dangerous—sway of the hips. "They be lookin' so good in the summertime," he explains, "I wanted to dedicate a song to them, you know? 'Cause I appreciate their beauty."

But Bobby is careful not to offend. "Ain't nothing changed," he says. "We still love our Chocolate Deluxe, Caramel Sundae, French Vanilla—but we love our Butter-Pecan Ricans too." —Geoffrey Gray

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