British Rock Meets a Soul Queen – ‘Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook’ – Bettye LaVette

Track Listing:
The Word (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
No Time To Live (James Capaldi/Stephen Winwood)
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood (Bennie Benjamin/Gloria Caldwell/Sol Marcus)
All My Love (John Baldwin/Robert Plant)
Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)
Wish You Were Here (David Gilmour/Roger Waters)
It Don’t Come Easy (Richard Starkey)
Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
Salt Of The Earth (Michael Jagger/Keith Richards)
Nights In White Satin (David Hayward)
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad (Eric Clapton/Bobby Whitlock)
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Elton John/Bernard Taupin)
Love Reign O’er Me (Peter Townshend) [BONUS TRACK]

Released 2010

When different musical genres mix, it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes, it’s a mess and fans of either side of the fusion are left dissatisfied.  So, what happens when veteran soul singer, Bettye LaVette, takes on rock and pop classics from the British canon?  The result is superb.  Hers is the voice of smoky clubs at midnight.  At 64 years old, it’s not a fresh voice but one that oozes experience of loves won and lost. Imagine if Tina Turner, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin morphed following a night on the bourbon and you get the idea.  She takes these songs where they have never been before.

Don’t be put off if you are not a fan of the originals.  This is a Bettye LaVette record through and through and I suspect she would make a Julie Andrews song sound sexy. She may not be a well-known face in the UK but she’s on the must have list for historic gatherings in America.  Her duet with Jon Bon Jovi on the Sam Cooke classic, A Change Is Gonna Come, was one of the highlights at the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.  LaVette has dipped her toes into rock and country before this release.  She’s recorded with the rock country band, Drive By Truckers and she performed the bonus track here, Love Reign O’er Me by The Who, at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2008.  Apparently, she made Pete Townshend cry.

This album goes further than Bettye’s previous rock outings with renditions of songs by psychedelic rock bands, Pink Floyd and Traffic, and stadium giants, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.  There is a bias towards the Beatles with one Beatles track and one cover each of Paul, George, and Ringo solo records.  Less surprising is the selection of the bluesy Nina Simone song, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, which was a hit for The Animals.  She doesn’t go for the obvious, preferring to perform the lesser-known Salt of the Earth by the Stones rather than (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

LaVette strips each song down to its raw emotions and the musical arrangements are sympathetic.  This record neatly closes a circle, back to when white boys first played air guitar in their bedrooms in England to the American R&B blasting from their transistor radios.  They went on to become the ‘British Invasion’.  LaVette is simply returning the compliment and it’s a reminder that there are no boundaries that can’t be crossed.