Release Date: Sep 25, 2012
Record label: Anti
Genre(s): Soul, Urban, Northern Soul
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.
BETTYE LAVETTE plays the Winter Garden Theatre tonight (Thursday, November 1). See listing. Rating: NNNN It's taken her 50 years to get here, but Detroit R&B singer Bettye LaVette is finally enjoying the success she's been chasing since her teens. This collection of covers isn't something that she could have recorded back in the 60s, though; its appeal has everything to do with the weathered and world-weary quality of her mature voice.
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.
If soul singer Bettye Lavette has proven anything during her stunning mid-life comeback that picked up steam with 2005’s move to Anti-, it’s that you don’t need to write a song to get plenty out of it. That’s not news, but in Lavette’s case, she and her producers have done a remarkable job choosing material she can inhabit and find new meanings in by way of radical rearrangements and her edgy, taut, often defiant vocals. Her latest follows 2010’s successful excursion into the British rock songbook bringing her back home to a diverse and predominantly American set of somewhat obscure gems penned by Dylan, the Black Keys, Tom Waits, Sly and the Family Stone (the title track) and others.
Now five albums into her career renaissance, Bettye LaVette’s output has become perhaps too predictable. Like each of the four albums that preceded it, Thankful N’ Thoughtful finds the singer using her powerhouse, inimitable voice to reinterpret a collection of both familiar and obscure material in a tasteful style that blends elements of vintage blues, Southern soul, and contemporary rock. Since there’s never any faulting LaVette’s performances, the quality of her albums depends on both the material and the producers she chooses, and it’s in those ways that Thankful N’ Thoughtful is a slight letdown from LaVette.
In the last decade, a number of older soul and blues singers have experienced late-career rebirths. The Daptone label has released successful albums from Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley. Betty Wright recorded an album with the Roots. The Truth and Soul label has a belter of their own in Lee Fields ….
Possibly the best set of songs she’s ever recorded. Lloyd Bradley 2012 When most other artists do them, they’re cover versions. But when Bettye LaVette does them, they’re “interpretations”, such is her talent for getting inside a song and extracting a depth of soul and meaning that might even surprise the original artists. In 2010, LaVette put out a collection of renovated British rock numbers.
Calexico Calexico, the proudly Southwestern band from Arizona led by the guitarist and singer Joey Burns and the drummer John Convertino, left home to record “Algiers” (Anti-), an album named after the neighborhood where it was recorded: a neighborhood of New Orleans across the Mississippi from ….