THE COMEBACK SOUL QUEEN REIGNS OVER THE PLUSH NITERY
BY HENRY EDWARDS
In an age punctuated by the bombastic vocal pyrotechnics most often seen on TV shows like “American Idol," authenticity has become an increasingly rare commodity. Therefore, on those rare occasions when the real deal comes along—and Bettye LaVette most assuredly is the real deal!—to paraphrase Arthur Miller, attention must be paid.
In the case of LaVette, it would be difficult to do otherwise when the singer is as gritty, emotionally charged and commanding as this particular songstress.
Looking chic and sexy in black, and showing not the slightest wear and tear for her 66-year residency on planet earth, LaVette has returned in triumph to the Café Carlyle after a spectacular debut appearance last spring.
Great soul singers climb inside songs and transform them into searing personal statements, and LaVette is one of the greats.
Accompanied by a powerhouse four-piece band—keyboardist Alan Hill, bassist Chuck Bartels, guitarist Brett Lucas and drummer Darryl Pierce—that produces stylish, funky, driving music in the Memphis soul style, the vocalist renders a no nonsense set that includes selections from her most recent CDs, including "I've Got My Own Hell To Raise" and "Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook," an enthralling compilation of soul renditions of songs by Traffic, the Animals, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, Eric Clapton and Elton John, among others.
George Jones's “Choices” and Dolly Parton's "Little Sparrow" receive the LaVette treatment. Of particular interest is the anguished, aching reading the singer applies to Billy Strayhorn's great standard, "Lush Life."
The vocalist concludes her performance with a wrenching a cappella version of Sinead O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got."
I have water for my journey
I have bread and I have wine
No longer will I be hungry
For the bread of life is mine
The profoundly simple gospel treatment proved simply stunning.
In his review in The New York Times Stephen Holden wrote: "Ms. LaVette is quick to note that she spent 45 years in relative obscurity before she was rediscovered several years ago. Now recognized as one of the great soul interpreters of her generation, she has a gift that, in my opinion, makes her the equal of Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner."
Holden goes on to observe: "Ms. LaVette is savoring what was long denied her. Instead of a diva making grand gestures, she is an R&B realist who tells it like it is....Ms. LaVette’s show may have tilted a bit toward the grim, but it didn’t include a single false moment. What more can you ask of an artist than to lay out the truth?"
Bettye LaVette performs Tuesdays through Saturdays at The Cafe Carlyle through March 31. For more information, go to bettylavette.com.