Bettye Lavette (born Betty Jo Haskins) won’t mind us calling her a real soul veteran. Again she won’t mind us revealing that she’s now 77 and, thankfully, still making proper soul music as witnessed by this new 11 tracker, released on the wonderfully named Jay-Vee Records. Surely a play on that legendary old Vee Jay label… a label that was still in its prime when Ms Lavette made her recording debut back in 1962! That single ‘My Man – He’s A Lovin’ Man’ was picked up by Atlantic and was an R&B hit. Since that debut, Bettye’s recorded for a number of labels including Calla, (her best known song for the label being ‘Let Me Down Easy’), Silver Fox, Atco/Atlantic (again), Epic and Motown. And though she never achieved major success, her name became synonymous with real soul music and her work was always revered and collected by connoisseurs. Those connoisseurs will know that the Motown period wasn’t particularly smooth sailing for Ms L so she drifted away from recording to concentrate on musical theatre.
Fast forward to the 1990s when French music biz entrepreneur Gilles Petard discovered some previously “lost” Bettye Lavette Atlantic recordings and he reissued them on his Art and Sound label. These raw, soulful sounds were a revelation to a new generation of soul fans and Bettye’s career was revitalized and through the noughties and onwards a slew of new recordings brought Ms L to a new, broader based audience – an audience that wanted “for real” music as opposed to the formulaic,. programmed, anodyne sounds that seemed to be the order of the day.
Which brings us to the new ‘Lavette!’ The album’s produced by Steve Jordan (who’s currently drumming with the Rolling Stones, by the way) and the set offers Bettye’s interpretation of a set of songs composed by Randall Bramblett. He’s a garlanded multi-instrumentalist who writes, produces and performs across genres – all his music, though, has a tough raw, soulful honesty that betrays his Southern heritage.
Thus, on the 11 tracker don’t expect what we might call “modern” or “contemporary” soul music. The music of ‘Lavette!’ is modern, of course, but it’s roots are deep in Southern soul’s heritage and given the pedigree of both Jordan and Bramblett you can also hear country, blues, country rock and Americana – all genres perfectly suited to Bettye’s still powerful but world-weary voice.
Get the flavour via ‘Plan B’ – down and dirty and properly “for real”. Then there’s the powerful, driving ‘Sooner Or Later’ which features Anthony Hamiton on growling BVs. Ray Parker Jr plays the guitar riffs while the organ fills come courtesy of Hi luminary Charles Hodges. Other guests on the album include John Mayer who plays guitar on the countrified ‘In The Meantime’ and Steve Winwood who plays Hammond B3 on the funky ‘Don’t Get Me Started’. Wonderful cameos from ‘em all… but Bettye’s voice is the star of the show!