Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bettye Lavette at the Jazz Cafe

"A sudden overnight success that only took 50 years." That's how Bettye Lavette described her career when she showed off her new album Thankful N' Thoughtful in a passionate and soulful show at the Jazz Cafe last night. Bettye has seen it all in the 50 years since she started out in Detroit and recorded her first single 'My Man - He's A Lovin' Man' back in 1962: crooked record companies, lovers such as Jackie Wilson and Aretha Franklin's first husband Ted White, men who were more interested in pimping her than helping her in her career and more than her fair share of disappointments and hard times. She has a new book 'A Woman Like Me', co-written with David Ritz, in which she tells the unvarnished truth about her remarkable life.
There are many words to describe her: gutsy, determined, passionate, soulful are a few that come to mind. And now at last she is getting the recognition she deserves. Despite early success, and some brilliant soul records, including the deep soul classic Let Me Down Easy in 1965, she never quite made the big time. A 1970 Atlantic album was unreleased and only saw the light of day in 2000, an LP for Motown in 1982 called 'Tell Me A Lie' was unsuccessful as the company tried to make her a replacement for Diana Ross, and it was only when UK soul fans took up her cause in the last decade that she has seen her career take off, with a series of albums featuring covers - 'interpretations' as she rightly calls them - of songs made famous by other artists.
Bettye's husky voice can make even dull songs come alive, as she showed last night. After a funky interpretation of the Beatles' The Word, she moved on to Take Me As I Am, one of the numbers from Scene Of The Crime, her soulful 2007 album which won a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy Award in 2008. From her new Thankful N' Thoughtful album of covers she sang I'm Not The One (The Black Keys), Bob Dylan's Everything Is Broken, Neil Young's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (along with a stunning version of Young's Heart Of Gold that she first recorded in the early 1970s), a passionate version of Crazy (Gnarls Barkley), The More I Search (The More I Die) (Kim McLean), and I'm Tired (Savoy Brown). In between she did a track from her earlier album I've Got My Own Hell To Raise - Lucinda Williams' Joy (the only woman who can outdrink her, Bettye said), and A Woman Like Me, the title track from her comeback album of 2004.
For me, the standout performance was her 1965 song Let Me Down Easy - a song, she said, that no one in Detroit had ever heard apart from her family. I've seen Bettye a couple of times before - at the Utrecht Blues Festival in the late 90s and at the Porretta Soul Festival in 2001 - the year it was held in Bologna - and she has never failed to impress with this song and her general soulful style. But this time there was something more intense and more powerful about Bettye - a confidence and contentment that now at last she has arrived. She finished off with an impassioned accapella version of Sinead O'Connor's I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got and the lyrics seemed to sum up the new state of mind of this remarkable singer. There's an excellent biography of Bettye on the SoulfulDetroit website


At 8:48 am , Blogger john marriott said...

Can't believe the comment re UK acceptance over the last 10 years - what you mean is to the rock, mojo type (mainly London) based audience she's been coming over to the UK since the early 80's playing soul weekenders, tours etc - Yarmouth, Blackpool etc. He performance on 7th Nov 1992 (remember cos it was my birthday) is in my top ten soul shows ever. Proper US soul band led by Rudy Robinson no less and her performane of Let Me Down Easy was absolutely spine tingling. She did material from her own 45's no rock covers just as she would for a Us Soul audience. Fantastic show.
I'll send another further comment later as there seems to be a restriction of size

At 8:57 am , Blogger john marriott said...

The 1992 show was at Blackburn St Georges Hall - I talked with her at Utrecht and later in Clarkesdale about it - she remembered it well.
Also bit unfair re the Motown album - not Diana at all. I think it stands up well as a decent album - bought it day it came out. I've always absolutely loved her pre CD era stuff (I did with Derek Howe the first UK fanzine discography on her all those years ago) but now days not for me at all - much as I've tried. Too rocky and playing to her current audience - bit like Mighty Sam did. Fantastic soul legend that changed his style for the blues festival audience . Won't begrudge her one bit of her success though - she absolutely deserves it and good luck to her
John again

At 10:00 am , Blogger Nick said...

Absolutely agree John. She has always been a fantastic performer and was appreciated by soul fans like us, but she fully deserves the belated recognition she's received. I too saw her well before her resurgence and thought she was great. I like the Motown LP but it was less soulful than it might have been, and I've read that she blames that on Motown trying to find a replacement for Diana Ross. Despite the rock-type material she was really soulful at the Jazz Cafe, I thought, and I enjoyed the show.


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