Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Tonight's the beginning of an all-out M&M entertainment sprint before we leave next month for the big road trip: concerts by Bettye LaVette, kd lang, Bruce Springsteen, the opening of the Mariners baseball season and, I think, a whale-watching tour when Michelle's mom Freda visits early next month. And that's not to mention the occasional movie and poker game. We have fun.

Of all we've got going on though, nothing on this side of the Pie in the Sky Tour sounds as good to me as tonight's Bettye LaVette show at Jazz Alley.

Like so many other good things, I "discovered" LaVette thanks to Fresh Air's Terry Gross, who interviewed her in December. Then again, that's kind of like Europeans thinking they discovered America: LaVette's been here all along, totally slaying audiences with her soulful, joyful and heart-wrenching performances. As I learned on the NPR show, LaVette had her first hit in 1962, at the age of 16, and a big Atlantic recording contract and promising career ahead ... except it never really took off. Remarkably, she kept bitterness to a minimum and kept singing, and finally in the last few years has begun getting attention again.

I went right out and bought the CD they were talking about on the radio, "Scene of the Crime," and it immediately became one of my favorites. Now 62 years old, LaVette has a voice that sounds a bit like Tina Turner's, but I think she's got more range, musically and emotionally. She also doesn't fit neatly into a genre like soul or R&B; there are hints of country in some of her stuff, and of old '50s and '60s rock riffs. That's probably one reason she didn't immediately "make it" in the record business.

On "Scene of the Crime," in addition to some original songs, she covers and reinvents tunes by artists as far apart on the spectrum as Elton John and Willie Nelson. On the record as well as on the interview, she seems delighted by her late success. In one song she sings:

"All these years I kept my style. I wouldn't cross over so it took me a while before the money came. ... Some folks didn't see my worth, didn't know where I fit in. Forty years I kept singing before the money started rolling in."

Thanks to my friend Misha Berson's preview of tonight's concert in the Seattle Times, I also found LaVette's last CD, "I've Got My Own Hell to Raise," from 2005. This features excellent covers of songs by female writers, including Lucinda Williams, Joan Armatrading and Sinead O'Connor. It's amazing.

I'm expecting this concert to totally rock. We'll provide a full review later. Meantime, listen to Terry Gross's excellent interview here, if you'd like, and thanks to YouTube you can see a clip of Bettye in concert.

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