Bettye LaVette at City Winery | Concert preview
Shoulda-been soul queen blossoms into a master interpreter.
When asked about her many years toiling away in apparent obscurity, singer Bettye LaVette has a line she frequently falls back on: I’ve been working the whole time—where have you been? LaVette has reason to be bitter. A veteran of the ’60s soul and R&B scene—and the seedy clubs that fostered it—LaVette waited two decades before her debut finally saw release, and by then it seemed almost everyone had moved on.
The Michigan native was vindicated by 2005’s I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise, the first in a string of strong albums for Anti-. It was less a comeback than a reminder of LaVette’s remarkably undiminished powers of interpretation, a gift that’s paired her perfectly with material ranging from Neil Young to the Who, whose songs she radically reworks to showcase her peerless and incisive delivery. The 66-year-old has nothing to prove at this point, yet her entirely justified ego is eased when she hits the stage and reaches highs, emotional or otherwise, that her erstwhile rivals are no longer capable of, or interested in.
LaVette tackles her targets—the swampy new Thankful N’ Thoughtful includes songs by Dylan, Tom Waits, Sly Stone and the Black Keys—with an impish glee and casual brilliance. She shines even when sitting cross-legged at the edge of the stage, wrapping her voice around familiar lyrics that manifest new meaning in her hands.