She's a real talent. With a story not so different from that experienced by Sharon Jones, a New York soul singer having a "coming about."
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
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By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
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"It was completely devastating. I got under the dining room table and stayed there for two or three days," she says of learning that her first full-length album — what supposedly was to be the height of her career — was not going to be released. "I'm just finding out now bits and pieces. I just got lost in that power struggle. Jerry Wexler [who produced Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin, among others] was on my side, and [Atlantic Records founder] Ahmet Ertegun was on [the other] side. I got lost in the middle."
The Coming About: Don't call LaVette's newfound success a comeback or, worse, a revival. LaVette prefers to call that period "my coming about" — moreover, with good reason. Her newer works, The Scene of the Crime (featuring backing band the Drive-By Truckers), Interpretation: The British Rock Songbook (famously reworking The Who and Led Zeppelin), and, most recently, Thankful N' Thoughtful, show a different side, one where LaVette, not some label head, is in control of her destiny. Each album features interpretations of mostly well-known songs, but each is distinctive because of LaVette's powerful voice.
"These are reinterpretations, and not everybody can do that. I do that because I can. This is what I've been doing for years," she says. "When [producers] called, they didn't call for Bettye LaVette, they called for a female singer, or female jazz singer, or female pop singer or whatever. I had to adjust myself to the gig."
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She's still doing that. Thankful N' Thoughtful features LaVette's renditions of tracks by classic artists such as Tom Waits, Sly Stone, and Bob Dylan. And, in something of a change, she reworks songs by younger artists, including The Black Keys' "I'm Not the One" and Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy."
"I felt like I could sing them and make them more adult-sounding," she says with a chuckle.
Doesn't matter whose song it is, really; LaVette makes them all burn with the longing, passion, and intensity only a veteran soul singer can muster.
"It sounds mysterious," she says with another deep laugh, "but it's not."