Featured Artists February 2007: The Taters

Quick question–who are the luckiest people on earth? Quick answer–the people who live in and around Richmond, Virginia. Why? Because they can go see The Taters play live any time they like. Oh sure, California’s got the beach, mountains, nice weather, movie stars, blah blah blah. But what good is any of this if we don’t have The Taters?

Formerly known as Burnt Taters back in the 90’s, vocalist/bassist Craig Evans and vocalist/guitarist Brad Tucker became “unburnt” in 2002. They play a fun mix of Americana music. But labels just don’t do these great talents justice.

Craig and Brad have been Twirl favorites since 2000, when their early albums Vox Box and Strange But True found their way west to Sacramento. And Craig was nice enough to ensure that Twirl Radio’s Taters collection was complete with the other two discs: 2003’s Recess, and the 2005 live set, Just One Night, both featuring wonderful drummer Stu Grimes.

So what do The Taters sound like? Well, for starters, Craig’s amazing voice sounds like Roy Orbison at times, Elvis Presley other times, and well, like himself the rest of the time. And sounding like Craig Evans is still better than most vocalists out there. His tenor absolutely soars and makes good use of vibrato. Brad’s versatile guitar work can do everything from folk to country to harder rock riffs. And whether he’s taking the lead vocal or singing backup, his harmonies perfectly mesh with Craig’s voice–the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. These guys would be equally at home at the Grand Ole Opry or on the old Stiff Records label as Nick Lowe’s and Elvis Costello’s labelmates. But no matter what, they don’t forget to have fun.

On Just One Night, there are some absolutely magical vocal moments, as in Waiting Game, where Brad and Craig blend perfectly, and Man With A Plan, where they raise the stakes. Craig goes absolutely through the stratosphere on this one–if you didn’t get shivers down your spine, I question whether you even have one. There’s some tasty steel guitar licks and horn blasts to round out the sound. Most of the tracks are Tater originals, but there are some choice covers of tunes by Steve Earle, Simon and Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, and a fun, surprising cover of Delilah, the song made famous by Tom Jones, which features the “non-existent Tater Horn Section” (playful vocal sounds where the horns would be). The guys are straining to keep from laughing. Lots of life and energy on this live set. I wish I were at that show.

Since I was two albums behind, I need to mention that on Recess, the boys really stretch out and do some new things. Going Over the Hill is a really catchy track, with a really funky organ (a la Les McCann) and buzzy, sinewy guitar lead. Almost makes you forget that the song is about a middle-aged guy whose buddies all got married, and he’s left to go it alone. There’s a Taterized version of Sunshine, the early 70’s Jonathan Edwards tune, which I think would be a great live raveup. That’s Me reminds me of something Greg Kihn might have done in his heyday, but again with Craig and Brad at the vocals, it becomes something greater and more dramatic. And Required By Love sounds like it came straight out of a mid-career Elvis Presley movie. I can picture Elvis driving the red convertible, with Ann Margret by his side while this track is playing. The album closes with Raphael, a caring look at the life of a migrant farm worker from his point of view. Of the Taters’ four albums, this is my favorite.

My only dilemma–I can only listen to one of these albums at a time. The Taters have something for everyone, and for that, I am proud to feature them on Twirl throughout the month of February, 2007.

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