Cherry Red (UK) CDBRED 649

Unbelievable; When I Was A Young Girl; Bless Us All; Stop; Undamned; Complicated; Where A Life Goes; Just Between You And Me And The Wall You’re A Fool; Wait; Step Away; Worthy

After four albums for the US Anti- label, the incomparable Bettye LaVette now drops her latest set, ‘Worthy’, off at Britain’s Cherry Red Records, so boy do they have themselves a coup.  Reuniting with Grammy-nominated producer, Joe Henry - who helmed her first Anti- album, ‘I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise’ - she takes joint charge on what might be her most intense and draining set to date.  Performing with a mere quartet of musicians of Jay Bellerose (drums and percussion), Doyle Bramhall II (guitar), Chris Bruce (bass) - Bramhall and Bruce, reunited with Bettye from the ‘...Hell...’ album, swap duties on tracks 7 and 9 - and Patrick Warren (keyboards), Bettye takes the eleven songs and, as ever, personalises them to the nth degree so that each becomes an experience.  I feel pretty certain that the song sequence was a far from random choice and, for that reason, I will stick to the ‘order of service’ to put in my two penn’orth and so we kick off with ‘Unbelievable’, not the first Bob Dylan song to grace the LaVette repertoire and, at mid-pace, one of the faster tracks on what is principally a downtempo set.  It’s a little funky, a little swampy and a little jazzy and makes for a feel-good opener.  ‘When I Was A Young Girl’ was penned by Savoy Brown’s sometime vocalist, Chris Youlden and was introduced to the world by the group back in 1970.  The song is strong, very moody and atmospheric and it’s one of those occasions where the guitar work actually makes a complementary contribution but for the epitome of sympathetic instrumentation we move on to the first of the stop-you-in-your-tracks numbers, the absolutely splendid, sad and slow ‘Bless Us All’, penned and first recorded by Mickey Newbury.  Joe Henry wrote ‘Stop’ and he counts into the song as drums and piano keep the moody and sinuous number going before we come to a song new to yours truly, ‘Undamned’, which I have subsequently learned was originally performed by a band I’d also never heard of called Over The Rhine as a duet with Lucinda Williams.  Dead slow, mournful and lyrically intense, this is perfect Bettye LaVette for me and I really don’t want to hear another version!  It’s probably just as well that we now lift the beat up somewhat with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards’ ‘Complicated’, lyrically personalised by the lady herself.  Marking the half-way spot, the driving number gives us a chance to pause, take stock and actually tap our feet before ‘Where A Life Goes’, a Randall Bramblett composition and another fine song and arrangement where the mournful acoustic guitar introduced in the latter stages adds to the pathos.  At 6:40, ‘Just Between You And Me And The Wall You’re A Fool’ is the longest track on display (and about three minutes over the average).  It’s the bluesy track that will probably ensure Bettye retains her nominations when it comes to blues awards but for me it’s the one cut that failed the instant-appeal test, being too rambly and over-long in context here, although I would concede it would probably work well in concert.  By contrast, ‘Wait’ is another emotional drainer and her performance of the Lennon/McCartney song is (thankfully) so far removed from the uptempo pop number debuted on the Beatles’ 1965 ‘Rubber Soul’ album as to be unrecognisable.  Family friend, Christine Santelli - responsible for the magnificent ballad, ‘Old’, confined to the deluxe version of Bettye’s ‘Thankful N’ Thoughtful’ set - penned ‘Step Away’ with Brian Mitchell.  With the regular musicians augmented by a three-piece horn section, if the mid-paced opus fails to appeal to to those died-in-the-wool soulsters who have rather parted with Bettye in the new millennium then nothing will!  And so we come to the title and final track, the deep ‘Worthy’, originated by country/folk songstress, Mary Gauthier, who wrote the number with Beth Nielson Chapman.  It can be summed up with just two words, ‘further perfection’ and the whole set can be summarised, somewhat inevitably...


N.B.  A deluxe version of ‘Worthy’ is also available, containing this cd and a dvd of last year’s gig by Bettye LaVette at London’s Jazz Café.