Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bettye LaVette - Things Have Changed (Verve, 2018)

When one hard fought survivor plays the music of another, sparks can fly. That is definitely the case on this album, because vocalist Bettye LaVette is a gifted interpreter, having performed soul, rhythm and blues and rock 'n' roll over a lengthy career. Bob Dylan hardly requires an introduction, save that his songs have inspired legions of interpreters from The Byrds to Michael Moore's progressive jazz band Jewels and Binoculars. LaVette has a powerful voice, and dry wit, amply demonstrated on the opening track "Things Have Changed." This song had a noir sensibility in it's original format, but LaVette just owns it, changing the gender of the protagonist, spitting profanity and making a true statement of purpose that she may have been down, but she is by no means out. A crushing drumbeat and snarling guitar solo drive the music forward relentlessly, but it is the singer's force of spirit that makes it so memorable. Keith Richards guests on "Political World," but this song, as appropriate today (if not more,) than it was in 1989 when Dylan originally recorded it, is actually quite understated with subtle percussion and bass, and LaVette alternatively speaking and singing the thought provoking lyrics. Richards's solo is short and pointed leading to an organ drenched outro, feeling a bit tacked on and unnecessary. LaVette is a superb ballad singer and the song "Don't Fall Apart On Me Tonight" seems tailor made for her, imploring the lyrics over a soft and sympathetic backdrop, with melodic piano at the center of the accompaniment. There's a slinky and soulful groove to "Seeing the Real You at Last" with the leader's voice stretching across the accompaniment, holding notes and syllables effortlessly, and declaring the lyrics with a steely eyed defiance. "Do Right to Me Baby (Do Unto Others)" puts the pedal to the metal with swirling bluesy power, guitars chopping a stern rhythm as the bass and drums lock in as LaVette powers through the lyrics with ferocity. This album was quite successful, partly because they cover some material that are not the most obvious compositions in the Bob Dylan songbook, but mostly because Bettye LaVette is such a powerful and talented singer and interpreter that she is a force of nature that makes each of these songs her own. Things Have Changed - amazon.com

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