"Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook" by Bettye LaVette

Bettye LaVette
Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

ANTI-
2010

Review

The oracle has the following to say about Bettye LaVette:

"Her eclectic musical style combines elements of soul, blues, rock and roll, funk, gospel, and country music, which has prevented her from being easily marketed."

...that is a darn shame. This woman can sing her ass off!

Supposedly this album has her versions of popular English Rock songs. Nevermind all that. It's an immaterial fact and in many instances, you will not even notice that the song you are listening to sounds like something you've heard before. Even when you do recognize it, it's been transmogrified via some soulful alchemy into something entirely new. This isn't the case of taking something well-known (well, when it is well-known - I don't expect everyone to recognize the originals for each of these tracks) and lazily re-recording it a la Puff Daddy. Hell no (...shoot)! This is a SOUL music record where Bettye Lavette always wants us to feel the very being of her soul in a manner that creates a new musical life - it would be insufficient to use the phrase "breathing new life into", this is creating a life that was never there to start with.

As the late, great, Guru once said, It's mostly the voice that gets you up - and Bettye Lavette has an amazing one. To me, she sounds like Tina Turner but with a bit more grit. These are good things because it makes the songs sound more real to me in ways that resonate with the emotional side of my personality. Need an example? Listen to "Love Reign O'er Me" and try not be moved. The bluesy guitar seems to be reacting to Bettye's voice.

"Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is an amazing arrangement of a familiar song. For me, Bettye's version has become the definitive one for me. "It Don't Come Easy" is also strong enough to make me forget the original (sorry Ringo).

On the "just ok" side of the equation, about half of the song arrangements are transcendent while the other half are somewhat less so. I feel like by necessity some of these songs are going to sound the same ("Nights In White Satin" and "Salt Of The Earth") while others are a bit too familiar to successfully sustain the suspension of disbelief that these aren't re-imaginings of older songs ("Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me" and "Wish You Were Here"). But in these cases you cannot fault the singer - Bettye's voice is the glue that keeps the record together - but rather it's just that the arrangements fall a bit flat.

At worst, the songs can sound a bit too like generic Soul music and sometimes the arrangements aren't new enough to make you forget the originals. But at best...ah, at best this is pure Soul-Music heaven.

3.692 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. The Word (03:37) 4
2. No Time to Live (04:28) 4
3. Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood (03:50) 5
4. All My Love (04:11) 4
5. Isn't It a Pity (04:19) 3
6. Wish You Were Here (03:49) 3
7. It Don't Come Easy (04:34) 5
8. Maybe I'm Amazed (03:50) 3
9. Salt of the Earth (04:28) 3
10. Nights in White Satin (04:23) 3
11. Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad (03:57) 3
12. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (05:36) 3
13. Love Reign O'Er Me (live From the Kennedy Center Honors") (05:31) 5