If you sense the large energy somehow captured in this photograph of Bettye Lavette, then imagine what its sonic equivalent sounds like. (biography) I saw her perform before a partially packed house at The Beachland Ballroom several years ago, and it was both the most soulful singing and most intense soul performance I’ve had the pleasure to be overwhelmed by.
She’s released a new record, one with an unlikely concept, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Except it’s Bettye, and she could sing a phone book into fire and fury.
Here’s the trailer.
This record will be there at the end of the year.
Denise Sullivan’s article at Crawdaddy, Betty Lavette. When the Blues Catch Up to You, includes this capsule professional bio:
Once or twice in her promising career the soul songstress had the rug pulled out from under her cha-cha heels. The story of her long-waged war on going unheard started in 1962 when, at the age of 16, she was dropped from her label on the eve of a tour to promote “My Man—He’s a Lovin’ Man”, her Top 10 R&B hit. There was another less notorious incident, when “Let Me Down Easy” (a sweet and low slice of mid-’60s soul released by another record company) failed to take the world by storm as planned. But LaVette’s infamous blow came in ‘72, on a second bet with Atlantic, following the completion of her session in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with the Memphis Horns. It was hoped that the masterful Child of the Seventies would be her overdue breakthrough, though the record was inexplicably locked in a vault for the next 28 years.
Between ‘62 and ‘02, LaVette recorded (she charted R&B a few more times) and performed, though she was often relegated to hotel bars and stages even less illustrious. “The same show you see now I was doing for $50 a night. That’s the way I was raised. That’s the way I work mine,” she says. And yet the stone survivor hasn’t lost her ability to laugh at what’s been framed as her tragic fate. “I figured that if I could live long enough to get over to everyone’s house and do a show on their porch, I could get to ‘em all,” she says. Meanwhile, offstage she fielded dumb-ass questions like, “Didn’t you used to be Bettye LaVette?”
And then, at the turn of the century, the winds of change started to blow for the artist who was once and always Bettye LaVette. First off, a French record label dug up the tapes of Child of the Seventies and released it as Souvenirs, setting the gears in motion for her now-famous comeback “from the crypt,” as she calls it. By 2004, a collection of newly recorded works, A Woman Like Me, had earned her a W.C. Handy Award for contemporary blues achievement. Her steady and recent ascendance is owed to the critical and commercial acceptance by rock audiences for two albums recorded and released in the last three years for hipster haven, Anti Records, starting with 2005’s I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise (a collection of songs produced by Joe Henry and written by women, among them Aimee Mann, Sinead O’Connor, and Fiona Apple). But mostly it’s last year’s Scene of the Crime, for which she returned to Muscle Shoals to record 10 handpicked songs produced by herself, David Barbe, and Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers that brings it all back home for LaVette and kicks things up a notch.
Bettye sings her tale best of all.