Bettye LaVette's Interpretations, CD Review - by J. Blake

Posted on 8/10/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

When I first heard that Detroit soul-singer Bettye LaVette was putting out an album of British rock covers, I was a little skeptical. LaVette’s voice has never been one of my favorites and in recent years it has taken on an even more raspy quality that is just not my cup of tea. The thought of her belting out songs from Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd seemed like a horrible idea to me, but as the album quickly climbed to number one on the Billboard Blues Charts upon its release, I have to admit I got a little curious.

I managed to get my hands on a copy of LaVette’s INTERPRETATIONS: THE BRITISH ROCK SONGBOOK over a month ago and I wish I could say that I fell in love with it the minute I slipped it into my player, but if that were the case you would’ve read a review of it weeks ago. The truth is I wasn’t thrilled with it upon my first listen. I was willing to give her credit for rearranging an amazing collection of British rock standards and making them her own, but it wasn’t a vibe I was feeling at the time and seeing how it was not really a “blues album”, I didn’t really feel that it was worth shining the American Blues News spotlight on; especially in a negative way.

With that said it has now had time to settle and I’ve gone back and given it a few more listens; not because I felt I should, but because I wanted to. So I’m here to confess that INTERPRETATIONS: THE BRITISH ROCK SONGBOOK has grown on me. It is still not a blues album, why it is on the blues charts I’m not sure, but it is often an emotionally moving meditation on the words and melodies of some of the finest songwriters of the 2nd half of the 20th century.

At age 64, LaVette brings a soulful feminine maturity to tracks like “Isn’t It A Pity” (Harrison), “Wish You Were Here” (Gilmour/Waters), “Maybe I’m Amazed” (McCartney), “Salt Of The Earth” (Jagger/Richards), “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” (John/Taupin) and “Love Reign O’Er Me (Townshend); giving a new emotional weight to material that was originally written by British white guys in their 20s.

On the other end of the spectrum, slightly more upbeat material like “The Word” (Lennon/McCartney) and “Why Does Love Got To Be Sad?” (Clapton/Whitlock) get the funk treatment as “All Of My Love” (Jones/Plant”) takes on a more traditional Detroit soul attitude. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that the album’s highlight comes in the form of a Ringo Starr composition! “It Don’t Come Easy” is redefined with a slow and bluesy slide-driven groove that leaves you longing for more.

With LaVette’s aptly titled exploration into the British rock songbook, the key word really is “interpretation”. Even though every new arrangement may not be a gem, the fact that she successfully managed to make such well-defined material truly her own, is more than commendable. It may prove to be an acquired taste, but with a little time and patience, I believe that most music fans will find INTERPRETATIONS: THE BRITISH ROCK SONGBOOK to be a rewarding listening experience.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: Beck & Clapton Rock NYC!!!

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News and also check out Media Wah Wah for more of this writer’s thoughts and opinions about Movies, Music, TV & More.

NYC blues fans, make sure you check out Jack Bruce & Joey Molland live at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill on August 10th and John Mayall on the 13th!!!

Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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