BETTYE LAVETTE plays the Winter Garden Theatre tonight (Thursday, November 1). See listing. Rating: NNNN
It's taken her 50 years to get here, but Detroit R&B singer Bettye LaVette is finally enjoying the success she's been chasing since her teens. This collection of covers isn't something that she could have recorded back in the 60s, though; its appeal has everything to do with the weathered and world-weary quality of her mature voice. She's a master interpreter, and makes all the material sound as if it were written about her own turbulent life. It's also a nice companion to her new autobiography. (See review, page 89.)
Producer Craig Street might have been tempted to wrap her vocals around a throwback soul vibe, but instead he goes for a laid-back, almost jazzy approach, coming up with a palette that's classic without being retro. There's a rich sense of open space and movement that feels close to dub reggae at times, which leaves plenty of room for LaVette in the foreground. This is the ideal frame for a singer who specializes in heartbreaking emotion rather than octave-leaping pyrotechnics.
Top track: I'm Not The One