Bettye LaVette – Thankful N’ Thoughtful

January 01, 1970

(Anti-)

 

www.anti.com

 

Four releases into one of the
more remarkable musical resurrections in recent memory, Bettye LaVette is
clearly in it for the long haul. 

 

Her decades of toil after
slowly sliding off the national map in the late 1960s and ‘70s have given
LaVette a most unique point of view, five + decades after she first made a
splash as a young, strong voiced soul singer out of Detroit. Her struggle, and
ultimate vindication, have been on full display on all of her previous recent
releases, but never as overtly as on Thankful N’ Thoughtful (excepting maybe “Before the Money Came (The Battle of
Bettye LaVette”) from the brilliant The Scene of the Crime). The fact
that this is played out through her highly personal interpretations of eleven
cover songs is all the more intriguing. 

 

There’s several decades of
bitterness, disappointment and anger pent up in many of these tracks,
fortunately more than a little leavened by a sense by a pride in her survival
and a well-earned realization that her ship finally came in. So the first half
of the CD is pretty down and dark, as evidenced by the song titles: “Everything
Is Broken,” “I’m Tired,” ” The More I Search (The More I Die),” “Dirty Old
Town.” But this is also
bracing, emotionally bare-knuckled stuff: a world weary, swampy blues take on
Bob Dylan’s “Everything Is Broken;” a hushed, noir version of the Black
Keys’ “I’m Not The One;” a beautiful, mournful rendition of “Dirty Old Town” by
The Pogues; a hard, rocking bluesy remake of the Savoy Brown classic “I’m
Tired;” and a stunning, emotionally wrenching version of “Crazy” by Gnarls
Barkley. 

 

Things pick up a bit in the 2nd
half, starting with a New Orleans music hall reworking of Tom Waits’ “Yesterday
is Here” and an eerie, methodical take of what clearly could be an
autobiographical number, Sly Stone’s “Thankful N’ Thoughtful.” Even better is a
positively luminous version of Patty Griffin’s “Time Will Do the Talking” and
an upbeat, positivist rendition of Neil Young’s “Everybody Knows This is
Nowhere.” The best might be the slow, smoky funk groove of  Beth Nielsen
Chapman’s “Fair Enough,” with LaVette digging deep into some serious
heartbreak. 

 

Producer Craig Street and LaVette’s killer band
have concocted a  pleasingly minimalist melange that mixes bluesy, soulful
grooves with country and rock, putting LaVette’s voice front and center,
exactly where it should be. LaVette is in incredibly fine form, squeezing every
amount of emotional resonance out of every track, her voice a well burnished,
emotionally charged instrument that she plays like a master. 

 

Thankful N’ Thoughtful isn’t for the faint of heart or the smiley-face crowd, but for anyone seeking a
visceral connection to the lifeblood of real people living real lives, park it
right here. 

 

DOWNLOAD: “Fair
Enough,”  “Time Will Do the Talking,” “Everything Is Broken,” “Crazy,”
“I’m Not the One.”    CARL HANNI

 

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