Bettye LaVette - Blackbird (Advance Review)

Bettye LaVette
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Bettye LaVette - Blackbird

Throughout her long career, Bettye LaVette has sung songs in every genre – soul, R&B, blues and rock, just to name a few. The Detroit native had her first hit in 1962 with “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man,” and charted several other times in the 1970s and 1980s as an R&B and soul singer.

The legend added jazz along with tunes from the Great American Songbook at the suggestion of her manager Jim Lewis. Lewis handed out compliments as if they were manhole covers – few and far between - but he gave LaVette sage advice: He suggested that LaVette add jazz and standards to her repertoire of soul, blues and rock – a suggestion LaVette took reluctantly, but one that has aided the renaissance that started in 2005 with the release of I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise and continues with her latest album, Blackbird.

Bettye LaVette - Blackbird

Throughout her long career, Bettye LaVette has sung songs in every genre – soul, R&B, blues and rock, just to name a few. The Detroit native had her first hit in 1962 with “My Man – He’s a Lovin’ Man,” and charted several other times in the 1970s and 1980s as an R&B and soul singer.

The legend added jazz along with tunes from the Great American Songbook at the suggestion of her manager Jim Lewis. Lewis handed out compliments as if they were manhole covers – few and far between - but he gave LaVette sage advice: He suggested that LaVette add jazz and standards to her repertoire of soul, blues and rock – a suggestion LaVette took reluctantly, but one that has aided the renaissance that started in 2005 with the release of I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise and continues with her latest album, Blackbird.

The title, of course, refers to the John Lennon-Paul McCartney penned track by the same name. Like many of The Beatles tunes, “Blackbird” is a standard that has been reimagined by other musicians in other genres – including jazz. On this album, it fits in comfortably with classics such as “Strange Fruit” and “Save Your Love For Me.”

Blackbird’s nine tracks have a feel that is both sparse and intimate, and provide ample space for LaVette to inhabit the tunes. LaVette’s voice is a little more ragged and she perhaps can’t tear through those up-tempo numbers as she could 10 years ago. But LaVette knows how to sing. She knows how to carry a song with drama, phrasing and the dramatic pause at the right place.

That comes through clearly on “Strange Fruit,” the sadly still relevant song that Billie Holiday made famous in 1939. The haunting arrangement, featuring a blues guitar, is sparse, giving space for LaVette to stretch and mold the words, adding to the emotional power of the lyrics.

LaVette, of course, is a soul and blues singer, so she’s definitely in her wheelhouse on “Hold No Grudge.” She uses the softness in her voice to illustrate the fact that her memory is as deep and powerful as her magnanimity.  Backed by double bass, piano and those soft brushes on the drums, LaVette caresses every single word.

Her rendition of “Save Your Love for Me” and the album Blackbird can be seen as a thank you to Lewis for encouraging her to get in the woodshed and study the Songbook. It is another in a string of winners for her. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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