Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette
I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise

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By Art Tipaldi
July 2006

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Whenever you hear Bettye LaVette, you know she’s gonna sing her heart out. LaVette had been on the scene years ago, recording as a teenager for Atlantic in the 1960s, Atco in the 1970s, and Motown in the 1980s, but nothing ever took hold—until her 2003 award-winning record, A Woman Like Me.

Now, with her latest recording, LaVette is poised to take the blues, soul, and R&B worlds by storm. The first thing that will hit you is her voice. Like Ann Peebles and Mavis Staples, LaVette is in full command of this high-octane instrument. When the words call for soft and tender, she is up to the task; when lung power and intensity are needed, LaVette’s got that covered. On this effort, LaVette follows the tried-and-true formula whereby a world-class soul singer interprets the world-class songs of today’s best women writers.

On the opening tune, Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” LaVette stands before us with only her voice. Her raspy, Tina Turner-like delivery and Joe Henry’s dense production turn Lucinda Williams’ “Joy” and Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow,” into gritty Southern soul melancholy. LaVette rocks out on Rosanne Cash’s “On the Surface,” with the electric guitar backing of Doyle Bramhall II, who has been Eric Clapton’s guitarist of choice.

And then there is her interpretation of “Just Say So,” with just Chris Bruce’s acoustic guitar in the background. Though these songs weren’t written as blues songs per se, LaVette’s interpretations discover the crucial emotions at the core of each song.

On Joan Armatrading’s “Down to Zero,” Fiona Apple’s “Sleep to Dream,” and Aimee Mann’s “How Different Am I,” LaVette uses her expressive voice to reach the balance of sadness with the hope all singers of the blues understand.

I’ve seen her live show, and it is emotionally riveting. This record is nothing short of beautiful. Take it from me—LaVette, at nearly 60, is tellin’ the world that she’s still got a lot of hell to raise. Don’t miss her this time around.

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