Betty Wright - The Movie

Betty Wright
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Betty Wright is without a doubt one of the realest soul singers to ever hit the radio. With Lyn Collins’ ideologies and a contagious Mavis Staples’ fire, Betty Wright solidified her artistry using an “in-your-face” bravado with raw Stax soul on “Clean-Up Woman” and sexy slow jams like the 1978 two-part ballad “Tonight is the Night.” Although most of her treasured tunes are confined to her TK era, Betty Wright seems to somehow reemerge to the scene like a burning phoenix, constantly reinventing herself and her musicology with every passing decade. “No Pain, No Gain” gave her a major comeback in the late Eighties. In the Nineties, Gloria Estefan earned a No. 1 hit single with “Coming Out of the Dark,” thanks to Wright’s background vocal arrangements. In the 2000s, Wright contributed production work to Joss Stone’s Grammy-winning Mind, Body & Soul and collaborated with a long list of acts including Angie Stone, Diddy and Lil Wayne.

Betty Wright is without a doubt one of the realest soul singers to ever hit the radio. With Lyn Collins’ ideologies and a contagious Mavis Staples’ fire, Betty Wright solidified her artistry using an “in-your-face” bravado with raw Stax soul on “Clean-Up Woman” and sexy slow jams like the 1978 two-part ballad “Tonight is the Night.” Although most of her treasured tunes are confined to her TK era, Betty Wright seems to somehow reemerge to the scene like a burning phoenix, constantly reinventing herself and her musicology with every passing decade. “No Pain, No Gain” gave her a major comeback in the late Eighties. In the Nineties, Gloria Estefan earned a No. 1 hit single with “Coming Out of the Dark,” thanks to Wright’s background vocal arrangements. In the 2000s, Wright contributed production work to Joss Stone’s Grammy-winning Mind, Body & Soul and collaborated with a long list of acts including Angie Stone, Diddy and Lil Wayne.

In the year of 2011, Betty Wright’s still feisty in all the right places. On her latest disc Betty Wright: The Movie, she revisits her smoldering soulful formula while getting the preferential treatment from Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and the talented hip-hop conglomerate The Roots. The combination feels like a match made in heaven, proven so strongly on the album opener, “Old Songs.” With The Roots’ providing hip-hop old-school muscle, Wright pens a lyric that mixes the old with the new (“When you’re thirty-five or forty and you’re chillin’ with your shawty/What ‘cha gonna listen to?”). And she doesn’t mind partying with the young when she orbits the planet of Weezy on the Lil Wayne-featured “Grapes on a Vine,” which contains a bold mesh of Prince funk and guitar rock. On both “In The Middle Of The Game (Don’t Change The Play)” and “Tonight Again,” she stills gets her mojo working on all the beauty shop hot topics without going for the kill by using Mille Jackson smut. And, she continues to pour out her unapologetic doses of street wisdom. On “Real Woman,” Wright sings, “Get yourself a real woman/so you can be a real man/it’s time to stop playing with girls/ you need a woman who will understand.”

Of the album’s proudest highlights, “Whisper in the Wind” reunites Wright with Joss Stone for a song that soars to Teena Marie heights. “So Long, So Wrong” excels on the backs of Kirk Douglas’s guitar strokes and Thompson’s drums. The synthy “Look Around (Be a Man)” bears the symphonic elements of Chaka Khan’s ‘80s stuff. Above all, it is in the album’s last minutes where “You and Me, Leroy” finds a determined Wright raising up the esteem of her lover using motivational rapping atop a slick Isaac Hayes-esque jam session. It is in those moments where The Roots pump out an arrangement that sounds like leftovers from Wake Up!

The album plays like a double-LP long-player with the songs tending to reverberate longer than they should. The overly-repetitive chorus and funky grooves start to grow thin on “Old Songs” after three minutes of play, while the Angie Stone neo-soul – scattered throughout the entire eighty-minute set – starts to cool down faster than anticipated. Although the songs are strong in posture and grit, many of the tracks extend well past the five-minute mark and stand in need of shorter edits -- possibly like “Tonight Is The Night’s” infamous two-part structures on its original 7-inch 45s, with its perfectly-timed monologues saturating that cut’s lava lamp mood. It isn’t certain if Betty Wright: The Movie – decorated as  Betty Wright’s big millennium “comeback” – was originally designed to be a concept album, but Betty Wright and The Roots play to one another’s strengths, similar to the joint collaboration of John Legend and the Roots on Wake Up! And, with Betty Wright: The Movie, Wright pulls off her best album since 1978’s Betty Wright Live. Still, it seems there’s more to be desired here. Or, maybe not; like ?uestlove’s now-trademark Chia Pet hairdo, maybe all the album stands in need of is a decent trim. Recommended.

By J Matthew Cobb

 
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