Stunning, beguiling, sexy, raw, emotional, gritty, smooth, transforming, independent, uplifting. original, gracious, dignified, powerful, stirring, heartfelt, down-to-earth, upbeat, soulful, bluesy, uncompromising, full of youthful exuberance, wise and witty…
Just a few of the words that come to mind while experiencing the terrific Bettye LaVette in concert recently at Club Helsinki in Hudson. You may have heard her story – under-appreciated during the early days of ’60s soul, but having a major resurgence in the second half of her life/career, due in part to some smart musical choices, an epic Kennedy Honors performance honoring the Who and singing at President Obama’s inauguration.
Come May 26, Bettye LaVette will bring the British invasion home to its American R&B roots, looking to the past for inspiration while uncovering common ancestry in seemingly divergent musical avenues. For when it comes to baring her soul, Bettye does it in song, each one revealing a new aspect of both the song and the person singing it.
Bettye LaVette is often compared by the music critics and cognescenti to both Tina and Aretha, and she arrives at the Colonial Theatre on May 26 at 8pm. LaVette’s smooth and sultry voice will bring the blues to life and touch the audience’s souls.
In 1962 Bettye LaVette’s first single, “My Man–He’s a Loving Man,” was released. The record charted #7 R&B and put her on her first national tour, with Ben E. King, Clyde McPhatter and Otis Redding. There was no stopping her after that. LaVette went on to record a string of hits throughout the years, including “Let me Down Easy,” “He Made a Woman out of Me,” “Do Your Duty,” “Thank You for Loving Me” and “Right in the Middle (Of Falling in Love).”
Sharon Jones may be the “overnight sensation” du jour, but Bettye LaVette has a 10-year head start on the queen of the Dap-Kings. The last time LaVette came through these parts, the 65-year old Michigan native was part of a package show with Maria Muldaur and “Long, Tall” Marcia Ball. While that evening was truly splendiferous, I really wanted to hear more of LaVette when it was all over, so having her return in a headliner role was a hot pre-Thanksgiving meal.
Backed up by a stripped-out, horn-free quartet, LaVette was offstage when she started singing a searing rendition of Lennon & McCartney’s “The Word.” But she strode out front in a hurry, dressed strictly for business – black heels, black pants, black sleeveless top and packing a grit-coated voice that makes Tina Turner sound like Buffy Sainte-Marie. AARP needs to video LaVette dancing onstage just to show seniors what is possible, because Miss Bettye was rocking right from the jump, and so were the 400-or-so people who came to drink in the energy.
It was, in short, a perfect night of music, one to cherish for decades to come.
Following an inspired opening set by Les McCann and Javon Jackson, Bettye LaVette sang her first notes off-stage and then joined her band for a dynamic rendition of the Beatles’ “The Word,” dancing steps that belied she was 65. She sang and moved like she was 25, and the word was love from there on out for a small but appreciative audience.
LaVette is a soul survivor in the truest sense, and her renaissance and rediscovery in the past decade underscore one of the great stories in music. Like Ray Charles and Mavis Staples, she makes any song her own, imbuing the lyrics with a sense of history and understanding.
The folks at The Egg have announced seven new fall concerts in their ongoing American Roots & Branches series. Tickets are currently available to members of The Egg and will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday, June 7:
Friday, September 9: Roger McGuinn @ the Swyer Theatre, $28.
The legendary voice of the Byrds returns with his solo show that demonstrates his rightful place as a true pioneer of the folk-rock revolution.
Thursday, September 22: James Farm @ the Swyer Theatre, $34.50.
A new collaborative, genre-smashing band featuring saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks, bassist Matt Penman and drummer Eric Harland, uses traditional acoustic instrumentation as it blends jazz with rock, soul, folk, classical and electronica.
Saturday, September 24: Anthony Rapp & Adam Pascal @ the Hart Theatre, $29.50, $34.50.
Two of the original cast members of the Broadway smash “Rent” reunite to perform songs from that musical, as well as a variety of pop and rock tunes.
“I’m just trying to hold the fort,” Bettye LaVette told us before she began a smoky take on Ray Charles’ “They Call it Love.” Hold the fort? LaVette commanded it all through her opening set of the Sisters in Soul show at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. The 63-year old soul singer doesn’t just sing songs – she inhabits them, with a towering vocal attack and an animated stage presence that makes Tina Turner seem introverted: LaVette wrung every last gram of passion out of Pete Townshend’s “Love, Reign O’er Me”, turned Dolly Parton’s “Little Sparrow”” into a deep dark blues, and she took the message in George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity” far beyond where the ex-Beatle left it.
We here at Nippertown.com are very excited about this concert, and we’re giving away a pair of tix for the show. Just go here for details. We’ll be picking a winner later today, so enter now.
And we were going to write this big, long story about what an incredible soul singer Ms. LaVette is. We were going to rave about previous performances of her’s that we’ve seen at the Iron Horse Music Hall and the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival. But then we realized that we didn’t have to. All we really need to do is give you the opportunity to hear her sing. So here you go, Bettye LaVette singing the Who’s “Love Reign O’er Me” at the Kennedy Center Honors:
We’ll see you at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday!
Bettye Lavette at the Freihofer’s Jazz Festival in 2009 (photo by Andrzej Pilarczyk)
“‘Rockin’ Robin.’ I thought that was the best-sounding song I’d ever heard in my entire life. I guess I was 11.
It’s interesting that you say ‘bought,’ because we had a jukebox in our house, so for many years I didn’t have to buy any records. All the popular records were on the jukebox. It was so pretty. My family didn’t know that everything old was going to be new again, so it just went by the way.”
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