A great album from a great Detroit soul singer and the word "thankful" doesn't come close. Bettye LaVette is one of those singers who like Mavis Staples has never quite garnered the respect she deserves. She is lauded in critical circles and by lovers of soul, has paid her dues and then some; but the world is a cruel place and as more below par warblers are inflicted upon us in programmes like the X factor, true talent is sidelined. Bettye LaVette celebrates her 50th anniversary in the music business this year and it has seen her tour with the premier division of rhythm and blues musicians such Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King, Barbara Lynn and Otis Redding. Her past is very colourful and her recently published autobiography "A Woman like me" is understood to be a salty good read.
On "Thankful n Thoughtful" she produces an album which you listen to in marvel. That voice could sing the menu down the local Tandoori house and make you weep, just check out the two covers of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty old town" one very soulful the other so full of emotion its almost impossible to get that lump out of your throat. Her version of Neil Young's "Everyone knows this is nowhere" takes Shakey's plaintive country rock and infuses it with a passion that you never thought possible. Equally she turns Gnarls Barkley's pumping dance anthem "Crazy" into a haunting raw blues song that you should really seek out as a matter of urgency. Other great covers of the Black Keys "Im not the one", Patty Griffin's lovely ""Time will do the talking" and Bob Dylan's "Everything is broken" are included and amply demonstrate the sheer versatility of an artist who has seen and done it all. However it is her New Orleans music hall version of Tom Waits "Yesterday is here" that steals the show. The late night bar stool philosophies and heartaches of Waits are the perfect backdrop for the hurt in LaVette's voice and she really should undertake a whole album of Waits covers and send that young Scarlett Johansson off with a flea in her ear. Why not take a punt and as we approach Christmas before your cursor hovers over the Amazon "add to basket" on artists like Emeli Sande or Adele go to the source of the river instead and honour one of the best women singers alive today.
Bettye is back with another album of classy soulful covers, this time produced by Craig Street, probably best known for his work on Norah Jones gazillion-selling "Come Away with Me" but he's also worked with Cassandra Wilson, k.d. lang, John Legend and Chris Whitley. This album carries on in the same style as her previous albums "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" and "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook" - stripped-down, sparse arrangements of various interesting songs that highlight Bettye's excellent world-weary, tortured voice.
As with the previous albums I think that this formula can wear a bit thin and that some covers work (Sly Stone's title track) while others don't (Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Fair Enough") and I still can't decide if Betty's re-write of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty old town" (transferred from Salford to Detroit) works or not. I thought that Dylan's "Everything Is Broken" was a bit predictable and that the Black Keys' "I'm Not the One" was a bit pedestrian but Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" is transformed into a downhome blues (?!?) and the Savoy Brown Blues Band's "I'm Tired" is rescued from obscurity for a funky workout. There are also nice covers of songs by Neil Young and Tom Waits but ulimately this album is about that wonderful voice.
on 18 January 2015
There was snippet of a singer at the beginning of each episode of a DVD of a telly series called 'Low Winter Sun' who was belting out 'Everything Is Broken' who really got to me. The DVD was rubbish but Bettye isn't. I found out who she was in the end as she wasn't mentioned on the DVD credits at all. That track is on this album and I've downloaded it and a selection of 17 other tracks from this and several of her other albums because she is so damned good. I cannot believe that I have never heard of her before, which says a lot about the restrictiveness of the British media when they've ignored someone as good as this for decades in favour of relatively talentless money spinning alternatives instead. Bettye LaVette does it all perfectly for me with her RnB that has an emphasis on the 'B'. She has, instantly made a big time fan out of me. I love her to bits, I really do. I'm sad that I didn't know about her in the 1960's when she started out though, because that is most of my life ago. Still, it's not too late, I'm catching up now.