A weekend warrior touring when he had a couple days off from his job in construction, Tate Stevens paid some early dues before his career ticked sharply upward in 2012. The second season winner of FOX’s The X Factor, things are moving fast now for the 38-year-old Missouri native as Tate releases his major label debut this week on Tuesday, April 23.
The self-titled project, which was produced by Blake Chancey (Gretchen Wilson, Montgomery Gentry), is an uptempo 11–song set that slides in somewhere between the modernized neo-traditional sounds of Craig Campbell and the hard country, blue-collar attitude of Montgomery Gentry. As he sings confidently on “I Got This” (which Tate co-wrote with his hero “Joe, Joe Joe Diffie“), I’m all about God, our troops and the flag, and on his debut, Tate carves out a niche for himself with a strong, approachable personality.
The Western-tinged rodeo tune “Ride It Out” shows off Tate’s baritone over quick guitars and racing percussion. Grab it by the reins and just hang on, he sings with an infectious energy. On the thoughtful “That’s Where We Live,” marked by rolling banjo and a sentimental chord progression, he pays homage to the old familiar neighborhood with a warm and inspired voice. Here, and on songs like the easygoing album highlight “Can’t Get Nothin’ Done,” Tate demonstrates an impressive feel for building tightly-woven and fluid melodies. “Can’t Get Nothin’ Done,” in particular, features some of the record’s most engaging passages through a lush chorus that allows Tate to draw out certain words and vowels before diving right back into the laid-back tune.
Tate’s unique delivery, full of shifting rhythms and new takes on classic country vocal bends, stamps even the album’s cover songs with his own personality. “Sweet,” which was the first song on Trace Adkins’ 2008 album X, carries a funky feel with bouncing vocals and matched guitar/fiddle lines. “The Last Thing I Do,” previously recorded by Brooks & Dunn and Montgomery Gentry, is a roaring driving song with a flammable vocal ready to explode at any moment. Tate packs a lot into each vocal performance, the result of which is an album full of introductions to his everyman personality.
The album’s first official single may have been the neo-traditional, “Power of a Love Song,” with a huge chorus the size of the wide-open Missouri sky, but the party anthem “Holler If You’re With Me” was actually the first original song fans heard from Tate as part of the grand prize from The X Factor. Vastly different tunes, Tate makes both fit easily onto an album that celebrates its diversity. The clearest example of bringing in different ideas is the excellent, “El Camino,” an incredibly fun song honoring a cult classic; It’s long, it’s red, it’s a car with a bed, he draws out with good-natured emphasis.
The album carries many easygoing, lighthearted moments. However, its emotional center is the gradually-building “Ordinary Angels” on the back half of the project. A touching song that starts with tender piano, the message, When you need it most, the world is full of ordinary angels, strikes just the right chord, with verses full of crisp imagery and people helping one another. It provides the sort of takeaway that gives the project insightful depth and marks a promising debut from a polished talent many are now hearing for the first time.
Key Tracks – “Ordinary Angels,” “El Camino,” “Can’t Get Nothin’ Done,” “That’s Where We Live”