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Pam Tate: Singer vs. Songwriter

Singer-songwriter Pam Tate holds forth at Danny's Skylight Room. logo

Pam Tate
In a show at Danny's Skylight Room dedicated almost exclusively to her own songs, Pam Tate has just about the best possible person singing them: Pam Tate. Any composer, lyricist, or composer-lyricist would be thrilled to have this woman performing his or her material, as Tate is one of those rare artists who sings with abandon--and the notes are just there. A reliable voice is one thing, but this one has power, texture, and a beautiful tone to round out the vocal package. Oh...and Tate can act, too.

There's just one problem: We're sorry to say that Tate's ability as a songwriter is no match for her abundant talent as a performer. Her songs lack lyric complexity; they tend to be about one idea and rarely resonant with subtext. As a consequence, they start strong but soon lose emotional steam.

The happy irony is that Tate sings with so much passion and pizzazz that it's easy to overlook some of the shortcomings of the songs. And, naturally, some are better than others--a few, in fact, are exceedingly entertaining. She gives an acutely comic performance of a fresh, clever number called "Bar Mitzvah Shiksa Mamma" (music by Tate, lyrics by Tate/Raible). She has also penned a wonderfully atmospheric song called "Sirocco," and she distinguishes herself with an item called "Slow Down."

In her act, Tate sings only two songs not of her own composition, and she puts them over beautifully. She offers a strong rendition of "Marieke" (Brel/Jouannest, with English lyric by Eric Blau) and, to end the show, a blowout version of Aretha Franklin's "Ain't No Way." These two non-Tate selections, however, only serve to highlight the lackluster quality of her own songs. We cetainly understand that up-and-coming songwriters want to get their music heard, but it's usually a good idea to balance a show by including a higher percentage of familiar songs and slipping in one's own material more judiciously.

In a show so heavily devoted to the compositions of a singer/songwriter, it's hard to tell how much to credit the musical director. In this case, Tate is working with Rick Jensen at the piano, and he also sings a fair amount of backup. Their voices blend together exceedingly well, though there are times when it seems contextually inappropriate for another voice to be chiming in. Directing the show is Erv Raible, who brought Pam Tate to our attention earlier this year in his revue, 9/11: The Musical Response.

Tate has two CDs, both of which feature her own songs; they are Pam Tate: Die Happy and Pam Tate: Dancing on the Pyramids. Either of these discs will give you a clear sense of Tate as both a singer and a songwriter. You'll be thunderstruck by her voice, and that might be more than enough to make the albums worth your while. Her live show is called Love Lost and Found: Pam Tate Sings Pam Tate. You'll get another chance to enjoy this commanding performer when she brings the show back to Danny's for four Wednesdays: October 23 and 30 at 7pm, and November 6 and 13 at 9:15pm.

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