With one eye on the intimate concept albums Sinatra invetned at mid-50s Capitol, and the other on the gritty yet sophisticated soul recrods prodcued at Atlantic in the 60s this release offers ten songs taht tell the stotry of Bettye LaVette. Recording stints at Motown, Atlantic, Epic and a host of smaller labels left her with dreams to burn, and she pours every moment of hope and heartbreak from her 44 years nin music her tough-minded new collection. Choosing only songs written by female artists, she spins the tale of a woman in the world where men make the choices. The songs are from such artists as Senaead O'Connor, Lucinda williams, Joan Armatrading, Rosanne Cash, Dolly parton, Aimee Mann and more!
After four decades toiling in the record business with little more than a fervent cult following to show for it, Bettye LaVette can seem like soul music's equivalent of Roy Hobbs, protagonist of the bittersweet baseball fable The Natural
. Whether this riveting collection of ten covers by an eclectic range of contemporary female singer/songwriters will change the husky-throated Detroit native's fortunes seems irrelevant: Its spare, dusky groove and intensely emotional, in-the-moment performances seem utterly disconnected from concerns as trivial as fame and fashion. A forceful, timely reminder that soul thrives on the singer and not the song, LaVette doesn't so much cover these songs as reinvent them from the inside out, be it the chilling, a capella
read of Sinead O'Connor's
"I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" that opens the album, a gritty take of Lucinda Williams'
"Joy" where the singer burns with a fire that might make Tina Turner
envious or her recasting Dolly Parton's
"Little Sparrow" as bluesy omen and "How Am I Different" by Aimee Mann
as inviting, r&b shuffle. In a musical era where soulful authenticity and emotional resonance are too often virtual, this album is a delicious dose of the Real Deal. -- Jerry McCulley