What do you know about Bettye LaVette?

I hope 2008 turns out to be a promising year for music. I was browsing through the A.V. Club., (of which I am still confused as to what they do exactly because it seems like a little bit of everything) when I happened upon an interview with Bettye LaVette. According to a number of sources, Amy Winehouse has completely copied her style from this little known soul singer who is now finally gaining popularity due to Winehouse. But, it seems to me that Senorita Winehouse has imitated a ton of musician’s styles. To name a few, her music sounds like Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Labi Siffre, and tons of other soul singers (whom may or may not have appeared on that great show, Soul Train) that came before her. These artists have the power to stir, dislodge, and release what’s inside. That’s all Amy is doing. Perhaps, she should be considered as just another artist trying to relive the past as Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are. As for Bettye LaVette, she moves your soul most certainly. She has been doing that long before Miss Winehouse came along and probably will long after, if Amy keeps up her drug habit. And hopefully, Bettye Lavette will be receive some mainstream recognition for her talent.

The A.V. Club Interview: http://www.avclub.com/content/interview/bettye_lavette

In the two song links below, the quality of her voice reminds me of one of my childhood favourites, Gladys Knight and the Pips’ classic, Midnight Train to Georgia.  Well, that was the first song that came to mind, anyway.

Let Me Down Easy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFpFxB4Wqcg

Surrender: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9N78CJIT1RI

Bettye Lavette’s most recent album release is The Scene of the Crime which is soulful, even though many have claimed it has departed a bit from her soul roots introducing some country “gueetar strangin’ ” to her repertoire. The music vacillates on the lines (which isn’t as thick as you might think) between soul, country, and the blues, especially in the first and fourth tracks which are reminiscent of those old swamp blues. It’s a beautiful hybrid, I’m not sure I fully appreciate yet.  

Somebody Pick Up My Pieces slows down the album with a deep bluesy/country song narrative. Her voice is hurting so bad when she croaks out this song that I imagine her croaking this last song out on her death bed. I can just see her lying prone in those crisp rough (from tons of bleach) white sheets with her arm sticking out to the side expressing her song because the rest of her can’t. Oops, a little morbid.  Sorry about that.

The song, The Last Time, was too country sounding for me to listen to it in its entirety. I know, I probably shouldn’t haven’t dismissed it.  I’ll get there eventually.  The second to last track is a rocking good time. I found myself drumming the melody out on my wooden desk, which is surprising because I don’t usually do that unless I’m listening to Explosions in the Sky’s epic drumming.

My favourite song on the track is the last one. It was more what I was expecting from her when I started exploring her music. I was hoping it one of those songs that I usually reserve for certain days when I cannot really speak about what is on my mind. It is the kind of song that you listen to when everything you’re feeling is undigested and nasty.  It’s just you and the song communicating back and forth in an emotional swirling tunnel. The line, “You can’t undo a deep emotion” summarizes my experience with this song, in particular.

Right now, this last track is where my emotional connection is strongest, however.  But, that is the wonderful part about this album. Even though the other albums don’t quite ring my bell, I know this album is infused with a lot of power. As I listen to the other songs, I know I will come to appreciate the others one day. I will discover their true meaning on the right day at the right moment, probably making me weep. That possibility is what makes this album able to endure the test of time. There will be more to look forward to from her album with each listen.


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