About Fourteen, the label's inaugural 12-inch, and a collaboration between Tevo and his father Rick 'Poppa' Howard, is a perfect case in point. The title track is as good of a debut as you will ever get: it's simple and languid, with an old school soulful boogie, Big Poppa's vocals are suitably wizened yet poignant, and the whole lo-fi affair hits melodic paydirt.
On the flip, however, "Without You" finds Poppa audibly straining, as he's prodded towards the utmost limits of his vocal capabilities. He's tremulous, off-key and competing with some truly awful synthetic horns and an anemic beat. It is so awkward, and beggars belief that it's come from the same source, or even made it onto the same record.
Likewise, the label has flipped but sometimes flopped between excellent and turgid, never settling for points in between. The momentum of increasingly good releases by Tevo has been stalled by the unfortunate take on digitized classical music that is the Black Electro Orchestra, and the romantically-minded Poppa showcase FLO Crew (For Lovers Only), whose debut album recalls a wedding band with cheap keyboards and vocoders aplenty.
Tevo Howard has upwards of two decades of DJ experience in his native Chicago, but just a handful of years under his belt as a producer. His naked approach to exposing his and his label's development has been undoubtedly charming—even sentimental, with his familial connections—but Dreamer's Reason Cafe seems to draw a line under that period. Howard's official album debut reveals him as a producer who has finally found his rudder.
Dreamer's Reason Cafe is kept to a trim eight tracks, a smart decision for an album without a huge amount of aural variety. Howard knows his strength—deep Chicago house—and he plays to it well, staying on the right side of the thin inspiration-imitation divide. He also resists the overambitious territory of some of the label's other releases, keeping to a tight formula of tutting high-hats, deep analog pads, formless percussive pulses, deeply embedded basslines and simple looped chords, all buffed to a consistent sound quality lacking in previous releases. "Forever My Love" seems like a clunky early experiment with an artless beat and heavy-handed piano solo, but "Yes You (Acid Mix)" and "Electric (Club Cut)" are full-frontal deep acid, and "Out the Projects" is surprisingly delicate and whimsical, with a dubbed-out bass and chiming melody.
In the context of house high achievers from 2009, like DJ Sprinkles and Black Jazz Consortium, Dreamer's Reason Cafe may come off as one-dimensional, but those with an appreciation for deep analog house and acid will recognize the album for its expert simplicity.