Thankful N’ Thoughtful

 

Bettye LaVette CD Reviews

 

WORTHY - 2015

 

Wothy

 

"Fine soul-blues interpreter reunited with producer who sparked her late flowering" - MOJO

In 2005, Bettye LaVette recorded I've Got My Own Hell To Raise with producer Joe Henry and suddenly, remarkably, the decades of neglect and under-appreciation fell away as her still strong and expressive voice, now grainy and lived-in, romped, pleaded and blasted away the years. Worthy reunites her with Henry and the match is still blessed. The material is cleverly sourced - 1970 Savoy Brown, 1981 Amazing Rhythm Aces - and she relates each song to her story, her life, as in Undamned, written by Over The Rhine's Linford Detweiler, and the title track, both speaking for all late-bloomers who are fighting to be heard. Her bigger name covers (Unbelievable, from Bob Dylan's 1990 Under The Red Sky, and Lennon & McCartney's Wait off Rubber Soul, reinvented as a slow blues ballad) are notable successes. Previous albums in 2007 and 2010 were up for Grammys. It'll be a travesty if Worthy isn't a third nomination. - Geoff Brown / MOJO ****

 

LaVette's R&B-drenched soulfulness is prominently on display on her latest, the aptly titled 'Worthy' - No Depression

It doesn't matter who wrote it, or who sang it. Once Bettye LaVette gets hold of it, it's hers. You never have any trouble understanding where she's coming from. Her enunciation is crisp as her intentions: to whack you over the head and punch you in the gut, leaving you stunned and speechless.

Even though she deconstructs songs to the point of razing them down to their foundation, LaVette's more of an resurrectionist than a demolition diva. For her latest, LaVette takes on an eclectic array of genres and artists from Bob Dylan to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles.

LaVette is adamant that she not be labeled a soul singer. “A soul singer is anyone who sings soulfully and with all their soul,” Lavette says. “I think that could be anybody. I am a rhythm and blues singer - that was what they called it when I first started singing. You can’t just up and change it, that’s like changing my name to Ida or something.” She says that in 1960s black culture, certain singers were referred to as being soulful, but never identified formally as soul singers. “I’ve never heard a black artist describe themselves as a soul singer unless they were talking to a white person or somebody say from Japan,” she insists. - No Depression - Read More
 

"One of the strongest, most individual interpretive vocalists in the 21st Century" - All Music

Bettye LaVette doesn't write her own songs, but she doesn't have to - by the time she's finished singing a tune, LaVette has turned it into something entirely her own, an emotional statement that's original and complete. Since LaVette reminded American listeners that she was still working at the top of her game with the 2003 live set A Woman Like Me, she's been releasing a steady stream of new albums confirming her status as one of the strongest and most individual interpretive vocalists in the 21st Century. LaVette's first studio album after A Woman Like Me was the outstanding I've Got My Own Hell to Raise, produced by Joe Henry, and for 2014's Worthy, LaVette has teamed up again with Henry and several of the same musicians who played on those sessions. Henry is a producer whose approach is less about studio technique and more about setting a mood and letting artists go where they will, and LaVette is the sort of artist who responds best to this treatment; on Worthy, LaVette sings with strength and passion, but she understands dynamics, knowing when to go full-out and when to rein herself in, and her tough but thoughtful approach to the material is powerfully effective and full of keen emotional intelligence and her soulful, sweet and sour voice. - All Music - Read More

 

“I’m kinda special in my own way,” LaVette sings, but both she, and “Worthy,” are special in every way imaginable" - Daily Tribune

Bettye LaVette had already made her celebrated comeback, with 2003’s “A Woman Like Me,” when Joe Henry produced the Michigan-born singer’s acclaimed 2005 set “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise”. Ten years later the two reunite, with LaVette sharing production duties this time, for another set that demonstrates Rochester Adams grad (and Madonna’s brother-in-law) Henry’s deft touch for showcasing her aching and emotive — but never overbearing — vocals. And while “Hell” features LaVette singing tracks by contemporary female songwriters, “Worthy” shoots wider, fronting a spare but facile band as she injects fierce urgency into Bob Dylan’s “Unbelievable” and poignant melancholy into both Mickey Newbury’s “Bless Us All” and the Beatles’ “Wait” while also turning the Rolling Stones’ “Complicated” into a punchy call to arms and Lee’s “Stop” into a soulful showstopper. Each of the 11 tracks frames LaVette’s voice with subtle instrumental nuances — particularly spotlighting guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and keyboardist Patrick Warren — and she uses the space to make definitive statements with every song, right up to the soul-drenched title track, penned by Beth Nielsen Chapman and Mary Gauthier, which closes the album. “I’m kinda special in my own way,” LaVette sings at one point, but both she, and “Worthy,” are special in every way imaginable. - Daily Tribune


"This record isn’t just Worthy – it’s essential" - Blurt

The remarkable journey of soul singer Bettye LaVette has enough twists, turns, heartbreak and triumph to make a biopic far more fascinating than those made for bigger names. Her artistic path, too, has been an interesting one. After years of trying to make it in the world of R&B, she turned to producer Joe Henry and iconoclastic label Anti- to walk a new road, one in which songs taken from the worlds of rock, country and folk were filtered through her tonally limited but emotionally expressive voice and recast as future blues, soul and jazz classics. It’s a path she’s followed ever since, through five magnificent LPs that recast Americana in her image. - Blurt - Read More

 

"A valid rival to Aretha as the best woman soul singer of the past 50 years" - Irish Times

A valid rival to Aretha Franklin as the best woman soul singer of the past 50 years, (LaVette) is indisputably delivering the kind of music that Franklin stopped bothering with years ago. Worthy is a covers album, but you’d best come back right now, because when Bettye LaVette covers a song she really makes it her own. There are more cases in point on Worthy than you might think; veteran singers covering Bob Dylan and The Beatles are ten-a-penny, but what she does with the former’s Unbelieveable (from 1990’s Under the Red Sky) and the latter’s Wait (from 1965’s Rubber Soul) is a masterclass in re-evaluation and interpretation. Producer Joe Henry only adds to the slow-burning pleasure. “Don’t count me out just yet”, LaVette sings. Wouldn’t dream of it. - Irish Times

 

"Bettye takes us on an emotional trip with stops not only at desolate places for soul-searching and reminiscing, but also to sunnier stations with invitations to dance." - Soul Express

Although pain and despair prevail in the interpretations, there’s an underlying positive aspect in the lyrical content of many of these songs. The background music for the most part is restrained and almost minimalistic – less is more - but it creates a delicate atmosphere for Bettye to express herself. Bettye’s performance, of course, is as dramatic, intense and emotional as we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years.
Bettye: “I like this CD so much. I really, really like it. People don’t get a chance to hear me say that often” (laughing)”. - Soul Express - Read More


"One thing Bettye LaVette has always been is Worthy" - Soul Tracks

One thing Detroit-born and bred veteran interpreter of song, Bettye LaVette, has always been is worthy. Worthy of far more recognition and commercial success than most of her five decades in the music business has afforded her and her stunning vocal talents -- with almost peerless phrasing, spot-on inflection, and a bone deep blues permeating every standard rock, soul, and country tune she touches. When LaVette steps to the mic—all wiry, tight-bodied 68 years of her—and her fascinating, challenging life pours through that amplifier, every audience member is filled with the creaks, crannies, and deliberate cracks of LaVette’s form of song. She gives old songs new life. In the piercing storytelling blues that has come to personify latter years LaVette, Worthy caps a decade of a woman and artist who finally got her flowers while she’s still here to enjoy them... Regardless of any one album, single, or even label, some 52 years after her first hit, “My Man, He’s A Loving Man,” LaVette has proven a living legend worthy of international praise. - Soul Tracks- Read More


"Certain female voices of contemporary American soul music ought to be appreciated maybe just a little bit more..." - Pop Matters

You know - the ones that aren’t backed with a name like Aretha Franklin. Or the ones that Jeff Tweedy didn’t offer to resurrect with a series of great collaborative records. Or the ones not prominently featured on an Oscar-winning documentary.

They are the ones that survived. The ones that managed to keep their legacy in tact, the ones that never fell victim to a constantly changing and unfairly fickle popular culture. These are the voices that can still send goosebumps down your back and they can still make your head turn whenever you hear them echo in the distance. Age and life didn’t steal a thing from the very intangibles that made these voices so imperative; if anything, they’ve only grown more rich through the years. Bettye LaVette has one of those voices.

The Detroit singer sticks to that formula on her latest and excellent set, Worthy. Calling up songs written by everyone from Bob Dylan to Linford Detweiler, LaVette sounds as assured as ever, that scratchy croon tap-dancing on top of light soul grooves as good as it always has. Don’t call it a comeback, of course; this woman has been sounding this mesmerizing since JFK was in office. - Pop Matters - Read More

 

"Worthy can be summed up with just two words... further perfection." - The Soul Basement

After four albums for the US Anti- label, the incomparable Bettye LaVette now drops her latest set, ‘Worthy’, off at Britain’s Cherry Red Records, so boy do they have themselves a coup. Reuniting with Grammy-nominated producer, Joe Henry - who helmed her first Anti- album, ‘I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise’ - she takes joint charge on what might be her most intense and draining set to date. - STAR PICK - Read More

 

"Worthy” is another finely curated set of songs" - Boston Globe

On her fifth superb studio album in a decade, seasoned soul singer LaVette reunites with producer-musician Joe Henry, who worked with her on 2005’s “I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise,” the album that brought her to the masses, where she belongs. “Worthy” is another finely curated set of songs — by the likes of Bob Dylan, Lennon and McCartney, and Jagger and Richards — that have little in common aside from LaVette’s ability to burrow deep into their pathos and, by extension, under our skin. A taut song stylist known for her intensity, LaVette is unusually at ease here. “Just Between You and Me and the Wall You’re a Fool” sounds like we’re eavesdropping on her after last call, her wail weathered and raw. She turns Henry’s “Stop” inside out with a shuffling blues arrangement; it takes a few minutes to realize it’s the same song Madonna recorded as “Don’t Tell Me.” Again, LaVette didn’t write the words, but they speak to her experience: “Tell me everything I’m not/ But please don’t tell me to stop.” ESSENTIAL: “Stop” - Boston Globe

 

"Worthy is another powerful statement from a singer who, at 69, is still in full command of her instrument and her intense and personal approach to the songs she sings adds new depth and meaning to whatever she puts voice to." - The Rainbow Hub

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Thankful N’ Thoughtful - 2012

 

"Ms. LaVette’s bruised, caustic, adamant voice plunges into every line, coming through the songs as an unflinching survivor." - New York Times

"The magnificent Bettye LaVette’s latest album, ‘Thankful N’ Thoughtful,’ is an anatomy of bitter desolation, plunging deep to transform songs like Bob Dylan’s ‘Everything Is Broken,’ the Black Keys’ ‘I’m Not the One,’ Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’ and the title song, from Sly and the Family Stone. The album arrives alongside her rip-roaring, hard-drinking autobiography, A Woman Like Me.” - Jon Pareles, The New York Times

 

"Soul survivor Bettye LaVette injects serious sass..." - Rolling Stone

ROLLING STONE - JUNE 2012: "On her version of "I'm Not the One," soul survivor Bettye LaVette injects serious sass into the Black Keys original. As LaVette's voice slinks over seductive, reverb-drenched guitar strums, the clip zooms in close on battle-worn tour gear with bold lyrics zipping in and out of the frame.

"I find it interesting and thoroughly entertaining to add age and experience to young writers' songs and inhabit them myself," says LaVette. "I'm not sure what he was talking about, but I'm saying don't fuck with me."

"I'm Not the One" is from the Black Keys' 2010 album Brothers."

 

"Thankful N' Thoughtful" ...deep, swampy, and edgy American roots territory"

"Bettye LaVette gets classified as an R&B singer, which she is, of course, but her newest album, the Craig Street-produced, "Thankful N' Thoughtful", finds her taking her blues, gospel, and soul-influenced singing style into deep, swampy, and edgy American roots territory, and she makes it all work with a sting and bite to her phrasing that ranks her as one of the best living soul singers. She gives Neil Young's "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere" a little jump of joy, moving the song away from being plaintive and lonely to something closer to anxious homesickness. Tom Waits' "Yesterday Is Here," complete with brass and reeds, loses some of its clang and becomes a poignant blues.
... Thankful N' Thoughtful is a solid outing from an outstanding singer who knows how to growl, croon, grumble, praise, and jump for joy with her vocal phrasing - whatever makes the song live and breathe. She is still a marvel." - All Music.com

"Bettye LaVette’s voice, sanded raw and consumed by emotion, is a powerful witness: strong, down and above all, real. Those attributes infuse Thankful N’ Thoughtful with a truth in being, a delivery rendered from experience that declares “I know” just by the way she squares up to the songs. Again drawing on a canon of known rock and pop songs - including Dylan, Tom Waits, Sly & the Family Stone, The Pogues and Neil Young - LaVette deepens their meaning with a slow-burn commitment to the lyrical nuance and the emotional resonance in the melodies. Just when we’re sure we know these songs, the gasoline-washed alto shows us how subtle the depths actually are." Paste Magazline

Hear Thankful N' Thoughtful full tracks at Paste Magazine: and then come back and get an autographed CD from Bettye! - which can include your name if you wish, although it may take a little longer when Bettye is on tour, but we will get it to you as quickly as we can.

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Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook - 2010

 

cd reviews

 

On her new CD, Bettye brings the British invasion home to its American R&B roots, looking to the past for inspiration and uncovering common ancestry in seemingly divergent musical avenues. Throughout the new album, her performances are a revelation, inhabiting each song so completely as to make them her own. To that end, Bettye made some changes to the lyrics on a number of songs including the track, “Salt of the Earth”, whereby she modernized “strange beauty shows” to “reality shows” and “polio” to “HIV.”

Fittingly, Keith Richards has given Bettye some advance praise, noting: “When you hear a voice like Bettye LaVette’s there’s a sense of transportation (NOT to a penal colony!), but a certain freedom of movement and emotion, which is rare.  Especially to me and I suspect other Englishmen who were so fascinated by the music that is so natural to Bettye while we were still getting our feet wet. The ‘hands across the pond’ aspect gives me a warm feeling.  A connection!  A great record.  Put me in the fan club! How did Bettye LaVette slip thru the net for so long?”

Meanwhile, Joss Stone, who has shared the stage with Bettye, declares: “What a voice and what a soul to compliment such a talent. I believe every word, as does everyone that has had the pleasure of hearing Bettye LaVette sing. She’s inspired a lot of great music. You can hear clearly that her influence is all over the new music today”.

The Beatles’ pre-psychedelic Rubber Soul classic “The Word” takes on an almost religious fervor, while Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” is transformed from a majestic pop song into a stark, almost desperate expression of devotion. Profound alienation becomes intense longing on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and the wistful naiveté of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin” matures into a deep and unshakeable lament. Bettye inhabits these songs, revitalizes them and exposes the humanity that makes these 13 tracks not just pop songs, but enduring works of art.

Such mastery hardly comes as a surprise to at least one legend featured here. Elton John (whose “Talking Old Soldiers” appeared on The Scene Of The Crime) offers this endorsement of Bettye’s impassioned take on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”: “Bettye LaVette has always been a wonderful singer – I have been a huge fan for many years. To my delight and surprise she recorded an amazing version of ‘Talking Old Soldiers’ – a song that nobody else has covered – and made it her own. Now she has recorded ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ and has done exactly the same – but this time with a much more familiar song. I am truly touched by her picking these songs and can only hope that this album brings more attention to this incredible artist.”

 

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The Scene of the Crime - 2007

 

"The songs here are well chosen... and LaVette's nuanced singing evokes prime Tina Turner with even more command." - Rolling Stone

"Wow! I got chills when I listened to Bettye LaVette’s version of Choices", was country legend George Jones’s unequivocal response upon hearing Bettye’s version of the Billy Yates and Mike Curtis-penned track that Jones turned into a GRAMMY-winning hit in 1999. "I can only hope that my version created a similar sensation. Her interpretation is so soulful, and conveys the feelings I had when I recorded the song – the thoughts that I had about some of the mistakes or choices I had made. She did an incredible job, and she is truly a "singer’s singer"

"These ten tracks... are gritty, loud, raw, and drenched in Southern soul, blues, and gospel-tinged R&B...Scene of the Crime...was the album she was born to make. It gets better with each listen, and stands so far outside the realm of anything her better-known peers are doing today that it's almost scary. They are not even in her league — any of them. And while one can only hope she makes records for a long time to come (she's in her early sixties and in fantastic health), if she never made another one, listeners would have the ultimate gift here." - AMG

"The Scene of the Crime" is ten tracks of stories, each one sounding torn from the shredded pages of LaVette’s own life. She invests all of herself in the material...The Scene of the Crime is music without a shelf life. Gut-wrenching performances never go out of style." - POP MATTERS

"LaVette sings Scene as if she's been backed into a corner and relishes the sensation...A haughty interpreter with actorly instincts, LaVette...turns Eddie Hinton's "I Still Want to Be Your Baby (Take Me Like I Am)" into a master class on phrasing." - VILLAGE VOICE

"Old soul stars sang hard... Miraculously, the latest work from vintage soul star Bettye LaVette finds her continuing to sing at the high end of that hard-living style. Her vocals come from so deep in the gut, you could get a hernia just by listening. Yet LaVette's rip-roaring instrument also remains beauteous to behold." - THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

 

"LaVette’s chill-inducing performance is without question one of the finest you’ll hear all year." - USA TODAY

 

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I'VE GOT MY OWN HELL TO RAISE - 2005

 

"A voice this rich shouldn't have been left in the shadows for so long..."
- The Guardian, London

"That Bettye LaVette has spent most of her 44 years as a performer Is something of a secret among soul aficionados. She's had hits with: "My Man - He's a Loving Man" in the '60s and "Right in the Middle of Falling in Love" in the early '80s -- but never reached the level of acclaim of Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross. But that may be changing.

On her new album, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise" (ANTI-), produced by Joe Henry, LaVette puts her stamp on a collection of songs by women composers ranging from Sinead O'Connor to Dolly Parton and with stunning results. Her triumphant show Monday night at the Knitting Factory celebrating the album's release was just as impressive.

LaVette has a classic soul shouter's voice. She may be from Detroit, but the singers she most closely resembles are Southerners such as James Carr or Otis Redding -- powerful yet tender, a little rough around the edges, just as effective celebrating to the heavens as she is damnation and hellfire. If anything, age has burnished her vocals -- when she turns Parton's "Little Sparrow" into a harrowing drama, her pain feels so unvarnished and deep, it causes involuntary shudders and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. She also turns Fiona Apple's "Sleep to Dream" (which gives the album its title) into a feisty declaration of independence.

She's aided by her four-piece band, which provides her with perfectly understated and flinty backup. But the hourlong show ends with LaVette onstage alone, transforming O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" into an a cappella spiritual, ending the night looking exultant -- her head held high, chin up and eyes closed. Earlier she told the audience, "It's been good, but it's never been good like this." The loving cheers from the audience let her know they felt the same way."

Steven Mirkin "LaVette is easily one of the very best female live R&B singers!"

"The Echo Cafe show confirmed that Bettye LaVette is indeed in the top three performers I've ever seen in my 40 years as a soul music fan, up there with '60s Aretha and Nina Simone. I watched intently as she delivered song after song from her upcoming album "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise", songs written by female artists which seem tailor-made for this woman who is finally finally coming into her own." 

David Nathan -The British Ambassador Of Soul

 

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A Woman Like Me - 2003

 

"LaVette puts her stamp on a collection of songs by women composers ...with stunning results." - VARIETY

 

"Bettye LaVette's new CD is perhaps the best female soul release in years."

"Well, here it is only March and I hold in my hand the CD that will undoubtedly be my "Best of the Year for 2003"; Bettye LaVette's new CD is perhaps the best female soul release in years. A Woman Like Me (Blues Express) was produced by Dennis Walker who also produced all the early Robert Cray releases. Walker was a major contributor as a songwriter on all of those early releases too, so it is no wonder that he has written nine of the 12 songs here, including two, "The Forecast (Calls For Pain)" and "Right Next Door (Because Of Me)" each appearing on one of Cray's Mercury releases, with the latter's lyrics being used to title Cray's "Strong Persuader" release.

Enough talk about Robert Cray, though, since this is a Bettye LaVette release all the way - and what a release it is. As mentioned in the album's liner notes, this release is only the second time her talents have been showcased in a full length album. She first recorded in the early 60s and has had numerous single releases over the years with limited success. As is the case with so many of our soul/blues performers, she has a large following in Europe, prompting a 2000 live release from Germany coupled with a fine French release of her complete Atlantic/Atco recordings from the late 60s and early 70s. Both of these releases are well worth seeking out, as I am sure you will want to do after hearing this new release on Blues Express.

Seconds into the opening track, "Serves Him Right", you realize that the years have been good to her. Her voice is as strong and convincing as ever. When she growls out the lines "...He can go to hell for all I care..." you know you are in for an emotional experience. 12 tracks later, you are in awe of this newly rediscovered diva, and are bewildered that she has not been a major star. Hopefully that will change. The previously mentioned second track, "The Forecast", rivals Cray's performance. It is a well crafted song that works well in LaVette's hands. The track that follows, "Through The Winter", is an absolute jaw dropper - a slow burner wrought with as much emotion as a singer can deliver. What a trip! Song number four is the other Cray song, "Right Next Door", a cheating song on a par with the best of that genre. When she sings "...I was just another notch on his guitar. He made me lose the man who really loved me, he made me break my baby's heart...", mine broke too. Jumping to the sixth track, "Thinking About You", a sensuous song about a woman longing for her man. When she moans "hot", I break out in a sweat. What passion in her voice!

Only halfway through the album and I am already in love with her. Jumping once again to track number eight, "It Ain't Worth It", you hear Bettye in a different light, a torch song very much in the Billie Holiday mold. This track has some fine piano by the great Rudy Robinson who unfortunately passed away shortly after recording this album.

Track number nine, "When A Woman's Had Enough", is a great Dennis Walker tune also recorded by Shemekia Copeland on her new CD. If you want to hear how sensational Bettye LaVette is, compare those two tracks. We all know how great Shemekia is. Well, Bettye's version leaves Shemekia's in the dust. "Salt On My Wounds" has a fine sax intro and is another intense slow burner about lost love. Whew!

There isn't much more I can add to this review. If you aren't convinced by now, you never will be. Buy this CD. It will not leave your CD player. When you have sympathetic live musicians, an understanding producer and the great, great Bettye LaVette on board, the perfect CD can be created."
Alan Shutro - Blues Bytes

 

In 2004, The Blues Foundation selected  "A Woman Like Me" as"Blues Comeback Album of the Year".

 

 

"The pent-up hunger of a caged tiger at feeding time."

"I can feel the pain, Lord, it's raining in my heart", Bettye LaVette howls on "The Forecast", and it sounds like it. On this stunning comeback - her first American release in over 20 years - the feisty soul singer rips through an hour of music with the pent-up hunger of a caged tiger at feeding time.

Helped immeasurably by producer/songwriter Dennis Walker, best known for his breakout work with Robert Cray, LaVette moans, screams, shouts, pleads, and growls her way through a dozen tracks that'll leave even the most jaded R&B fan begging for more. One of the casualties of music biz politics, LaVette has a style that has only sharpened with age. In her mid-fifties at the time of this recording, the singer has a husky voice that tears at the edges, adding deeper emotion. Although the production leans toward the slick side, it leaves room for the singer to dominate each track. Walker, who wrote or co-wrote nine of these tunes, provides heart-tugging yet defiant material perfect for LaVette's take-no-prisoners approach.

The singer plays the part of the scorned, aggressive woman, left behind but strong enough to know she's better off without that no-good scoundrel. Song tiles such as "Salt in My Wounds", "Serves Him Right", and "It Ain't Worth It After a While" tell the story without having to hear a lyric. LaVette squeezes every ounce of emotion from this material, lashing into it with a barely contained explosive delight.

Like a stage actress, she builds up the tension gradually until igniting in a shower of yelps and repeated phrases similar to Otis Redding at his most impassioned. This is a powerful album - moving, intense, and honest - from an artist desperately making up for lost time. It's a success for everyone involved, and deserves to put Bettye LaVette back on American stages where she belongs. Hal Horowitz - www.allmusic.com

 

"A Woman Like Me, is easily the finest of her nearly 40-year career..."

Veteran soulstress Bettye LaVette seems as giddy as a schoolgirl as she settles in for our chat. "I'm really going to play a club in New York!" says the resident of Detroit, in an authoritative, after-hours rasp that makes her unbridled enthusiasm seem even more out of character. Though admirably humble, LaVette's assessment downplays her résumé. It's true that her latest album, A Woman Like Me, is easily the finest of her nearly 40-year career, but perusing the highlights of her time in showbiz suggests that LaVette's gifts as an old-school R&B song stylist have been evident ever since the mid-'60s, when she hit the R&B charts with "Let Me Down Easy" and "He Made a Woman Out of Me." In the meantime, her skills have taken her through ill-fated contracts with Motown and Atlantic, among other prominent labels, and even landed her on Broadway in the 1979 revue Bubbling Brown Sugar.

If anything, the singer's obscurity - most of her recordings are only available in Europe - is something of a cautionary tale for those who think a worthy singer needs little more than good songs and the producer of the moment to strike gold. "At one time or another, I've recorded for every major label except Capitol and Mercury", LaVette says, even as she disses much of her output. "Yes, I've made some bad records, but there's no denying the quality of the songs, which I always handpicked myself."

A Woman Like Me finds the singer's track record for fine tunes intact. It's chock-full of songs written by co-producer Dennis Walker, whom pop fans will recognize as the catalyst behind soulful blues star Robert Cray's success. That's how LaVette came to turn Cray's "Right Next Door" from a tale of uneasy male braggadocio to one of unflinching female guilt. "It was the only song of Dennis' I knew when we made contact four or five years ago, and even though I had to tailor it to a woman's point of view, I knew I wanted to do it", she says. "I had to do the same for the title track because it had kind of a 'man done me wrong / if you leave me I'll die' thing that I just can't identify with. If you listen to the songs, they all say things like 'we are in love,' or 'cheat on me muthuh, and I will leave yo' ass!' When it came to altering them, Dennis just said, 'Do what you have to, baby.' "

However, LaVette has another explanation for the new disc's leap to brilliance. "I wanted a CD that captures me the way I do my show, which I've never done before", she explains. Appropriately, the disc plays like a hip night out at a contemporary juke joint, with a mix of mid-tempo boogie and ballads driven by Walker collaborator Alan Mirikitani's scintillating guitar. On riveting slow pieces like "Thru the Winter", "It Ain't Worth It After Awhile" and "Close as I'll Get to Heaven", LaVette's handle on the lyrics is so sure that her gritty timbre sounds strangely elegant. "My longtime keyboardist and music director Rudy Robinson died shortly after we finished the album", she says, "but I thank God he lived long enough to lay it down exactly the way we've been doing it for years on the road. What you hear is what people have always gotten when they come to see us live."

Interestingly enough, LaVette feels her lack of a commercial breakthrough thus far may have enhanced her live act. "I've developed a pretty big repertoire because the records never dictated my show", she muses, "so I didn't have to be Diana [Ross] singing something like 'Baby Love' forever, or Chubby Checker doing 'The Twist.' Plus, now I know that I'm really worthy of the treatment I thought I deserved decades ago, which is great because, like I said before, New York's a town that don't take no shit." Out comes an animated chuckle. "It's the one place where you've gotta be absolutely great - or at least be really great at the lie you're telling." A Woman Like Me is out on Blues Express. - TIME OUT, N.Y.

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Worthy

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"Her use of vocal texture, of which she has lots of shades, is perfect and really involves you with the track. Worthy is well worth the wait." - Express (London)

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"A Woman Like Me"

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"The life story of this soul singer is destined for the big screen… LaVette’s candid story is also a window into the early years of Motown." – New York Post

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STORE: CDs and more

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Bettye LaVette is back with a new album and her long-awaited autobiography. You can buy signed-copies of both on here - and pick up a T-Shirt on the way.

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