Bettye LaVette is worthy and so is her brand new record. The “Great Lady of Soul” earned her nickname the hard way, staying true to herself and her dream for decades before the world finally listened. She was on the verge of stardom at 16, but had to wait 43 years until the 2005 release I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise for her career breakthrough. LaVette rarely writes her own material, but she has an extraordinary sixth sense about finding, remaking and reinterpreting songs about the trials and tribulations of the human condition.
A soul survivor in a class of her own, she sang the heartache and pain out of other artists’ songs during a recent show at the intimate music venue SPACE in suburban Chicago.
"I'm very glad to be here,” LaVette said. “Because when nothing was happening... I was welcomed [in Chicago]. I've got this new CD called Worthy. I like this thing so well, I'm going to sing it from top to bottom."
Bettye LaVette and bandmates; Alan Hill (music director, keyboards), Darryl Pierce (drums), James Simonson (bass), and, Brett Lucas (guitar) treated the packed house to a deep and thorough exploration of the album. She shared stories about how she discovered and personally connected with the songs, then sang them from her heart and soul. She also gave credit where it was due, and identified the songwriters of all of the record’s 11 tracks.
Ms. LaVette lets the music move her throughout the evening. She danced her way through “Complicated” by the Rolling Stones. She was wistful and reminiscent, however, when she introduced “What's It Like” as the type of conversation she'd have with her beloved older sister who died years ago. After covering the entire new CD, she took requests from the audience and responded with a fiery version of “Joy” by Lucinda Williams. A reworked and almost unrecognizable version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” and a celebratory “Before the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette)” followed.
"I wrote it,” she said proudly of the latter. “I won't hesitate to sing it."
At the end of the upbeat tale about beating the odds, LaVette left her band onstage. Singing “until the money came,” she took a well-deserved victory lap around the venue and through the backstage door.
LaVette slowed things down during the encore with “Close As I'll Get to Heaven” from the 2003 album A Woman Like Me. The record’s title is also the name of her 2012 memoir which may soon become a movie.
“It exemplifies how I feel in my heart and mind,” she said of the song. “Overnight success only took 43 years.”
The band departed afterwards, and Bettye LaVette remained alone onstage to close the 90-minute show with a soul-stirring, acapella version of Sinead O’Connor’s “I Do Not Want, What I Have Not Got.”
1. Unbelievable (Bob Dylan)
2. When I Was a Young Girl (Chris Youlden)
3. Bless Us All (Mickey Newbury)
4. Stop (Joseph Lee Henry)
5. Undamned (Linford Detweller)
6. Complicated (Mick Jagger/Keith Richards)
7. Where a Life Goes (Randall Bramblett)
8. Just Between You and Me and the Wall, You’re a Fool (James H. Brown, Jr.)
9. Wait (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
10. Step Away (Christine Santelli/Brian Mitchell)
11. Worthy (Beth Nielsen Chapman/Mary Gauthier)
12. Joy (Lucinda Williams)
13. Blackbird (Lennon/McCartney)
14. When the Money Came (The Battle of Bettye LaVette) (Bettye LaVette)
15. Closest I’ll Get to Heaven (Renee Geyers)
16. I Do Not Want, What I have Not Got (Sinead O’Connor)