In the late 1970s, the very talented Tata Vega recorded two solid albums for Motown on the subsidiary label Tamla, FULL SPEED AHEAD and TOTALLY TATA. The repertoire was very diverse and showed many sides of this multi-talented vocalist. What was part of its appeal, its versatility, could have also been a bit of a drawback to its commercial success. Still, it is hard to deny the quality of the material and the fact that Tata handled it all with seeming ease. It is great to see that SoulMusic.com Records has rediscovered these gems.
With a very strong theater background, Tata possessed one of the most confident vocals of anyone who had recorded for Motown. Part Broadway, part gospel, part soul, Tata could easily sing many different genres of music. At a time when the music industry had a lot of non-descript disco singers, along with, powerful soul belters like Chaka Khan and Natalie Cole, Tata definitely belonged in the soul belters category. Like labelmates Gladys Knight and Thelma Houston, Tata had “lung power” for days.
Motown successfully remained relevant during the disco era. In an effort to find the right niche for her, Tata’s music was worked in the clubs and at R&B radio. Probably, the most familiar of her songs is “Come In Heaven (Earth is Calling)”. That song was reflective of what Tata did best. She infused gospel fire over danceable beats. Both albums included spiritual/gospel-like songs including the uplifting and inspiring, “Jesus Takes Me Higher” from TOTALLY TATA. It was a perfect complement to some of Stevie Wonder’s work from that era like “Have A Talk With God” from SONGS IN THE KEY OF LIFE. On a song like “Try God” from FULL SPEED AHEAD, Tata once again blended strong vocals with Motown-styled melodies. She also dug deeper into Stevie’s work with a more-than-respectable cover of “Never Had A Dream Come True” from his SIGNED, SEALED & DELIVERED album, featured on FULL SPEED AHEAD. Tata also covered “Blame It On The Sun” on TOTALLY TATA from Stevie’s TALKING BOOK. She gives “Blame It On The Sun” an even more melancholy feel than Stevie’s version. It is a near heartbreaking performance. Where Stevie’s was more reflective, Tata sings it like a jilted lover, not yet recovered from the devastation.
While she clearly adds her own style to covers, on other ballads like “Ever So Lovingly” from TOTALLY TATA and “Just As Long As There’s You” from FULL SPEED AHEAD, she interprets less familiar songs with the same fervor. Both of the aforementioned songs were closer to the classic Motown sound of the ‘70s, melodic and pretty. That sound, and her passionate vocals, was also captured beautifully on “Just When Things Are Getting Good” from FULL SPEED AHEAD.
Motown enjoyed incredible success in the ‘70s with the maturation of veteran artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross into credible album artists. Perhaps that may have impeded Tata from getting a fair chance at radio. The label had to juggle The Temptations, a sans-Smokey Miracles, and a sans-Diana Supremes along with building The Commodores and Jermaine Jackson’s solo career around the same time. That made it all the more challenging for an artist like Tata to get her time in the sun.
Discovering these albums for the first time is a real joy. Both albums are equally pleasing. She may not have had a tremendous run on the charts, but she did make great music. Fortunately, she is still around today. Not surprisingly, she has continued recording, in the gospel vein. She was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Performance in 1985 for “Oh It Is Jesus”. She also recorded a gospel album in the late ‘90s for Quincy Jones’ Qwest label. Perhaps one of her most recognizable recorded performances was as featured vocalist on “Miss Celie’s Blues” from “The Color Purple”. With the recent anniversary celebration of that movie, hopefully, her profile will be further raised. And in 2009, she recorded another gospel album, THIS JOY. Thankfully, the mainstream success of artists like Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin, while still being gospel-based, should hopefully bode well for potential future endeavors from Tata. In the meantime, these two little gems of albums are a pleasant reminder of her vast talents.
RATINGS: Full Speed Ahead: 8 Totally Tata: 8
About the Writer
K. Bonin has worked in the music industry for the last three decades. He describes himself as "a child of Motown and the classic rock era." Having spent the balance of his career at Arista Records, his experience and passion gives him a unique perspective on music and the music industry.