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 Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
"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."
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."